My neighbor Jeanne was a wonderful, loving Grandma. She would often come over keep and eye on my own kids when they were small. Being an experienced mother of five, I always felt confident while my kids were in her care. For weeks, Jeanne had looked forward to having her 2 year old granddaughter Heather come for a visit with her parents. She talked excitedly about fun things she had planned. You can imagine the fear and dread I felt when I heard the ambulance sirens the day after Jeanne's family arrived!
Apparently Jeanne had laid out her heart medication alongside her breakfast plate, the same routine she did every morning. Curious Heather thought they were the M&M's that her grandma often gave her as treats and quickly swallowed them. Thankfully this story has a happy ending. Still it goes to prove how quickly accidents can happen, even to the best of us. The results can tragically mean more than just a ruined vacation.
As parents, we go to great lengths to child proof our own homes to keep our offspring safe. Most of us would probably like to lock our kids in a soft padded room until adulthood to avoid the worries that come with parenthood. Vacations and family visits are time away from everyday life. A time to have fun. The last thing we want to think about are situations where our kids are in harm's way. Yet when traveling, we often do not have the luxury of the secure environments we've created at home. It's easy to let our guard down. We need to be on the alert for situations that could cause injury to our children. The old saying about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure really holds true.
In Jeanne's case, a simple change in routine almost proved fatal. Heather's parents were in the next room but never gave it a second thought because at home they keep all their medications in a child proof cabinet. Grandparents and older relatives live a different lifestyle, keeping things like medication and cleaning supplies within easy, accessible reach. This can create numerous hazards for a visiting child. Keep an eagle eye on your child when visiting in someone else's home. Do not assume other people have child proofed their home. Remove all possible hazards from your child. Explain your concern to your host and ask them to put these items out of the way until your family returns home. Also remember, things like aspirin, cologne or mouthwash packed in your suitcase can be in easy reach of curious toddlers.
Grandparents are also known for dragging the old baby equipment our from the attic. You know, the stuff they used on you and your siblings a just few years back. Be cautious. Remember children safety standards have changed dramatically over the years. Double check and make sure if you do use older equipment that everything is in good working order. Sites like consumer reports and safety alerts can help. This holds true with hotel cribs as well. Look for Consumer Product Safety Commission labels on any borrowed or used equipment to make sure it conforms it meets standards for safe use. Double check around crib and changing areas for any sort of dangers. Pulling a mattress onto the floor is better than having your child fall out of bed.
Whether your family is staying in a hotel room and or in someone else's home, get down on all fours and "do the crawl" as soon as you arrive. A crawling tour will give you an idea of what the world looks like from your child's perspective. You will be surprised at what you'll find. The hand-made lace on grandma's night stand may be beautiful but not if it little tug brings glass lamp crashing down onto your child's skull. Be watchful for electric cords and outlets. If possible, bring along a child proofing kit from home. A few of the better hotels do have these items on hand so be sure to ask. If not duct tape (a traveler and mom's best friend) can help in hotel rooms. Bring along some pipe cleaners and use them as an obstacle for opening cabinet doors. If at all possible, request a room on the ground floor. If not, pay particular attention to any balconies or windows. If you can fit a soda can through any railings, it is not safe for a child. Likewise, keep windows locked and do not think a screen will prevent a child from falling out.
Before you unpack, check for emergency exits in case of fire. If staying in a condo or hotel, walk the route, count the doors to the exit. This could save your life in a smoke filled hallway. If your kids are old enough, have them practice with you and get them involved. By the way, counting the rows of seats to the exit door of an airplane can also help pass the time on any flight.
We often hear stories of young children phoning 911 and saving the day in a time of crisis. It's important to recognize that some rural areas do not have 911 service. In foreign countries, the dialing procedures for emergency help are very different. In most hotels, its a confusing process just to get access to an outside line to make a simple phone call. Make sure you're familiar with how to use the phones and dial for emergency help. Keep important numbers in handy reach by the phone. If you child is old enough, teach them too. Caring about safety is an important life-long lesson that needs to be taught early. Showing that you care and setting and example for your child will get them off to the right start.
I wish I could say things get easier as kids get bigger but I would be exaggerating. Kids will always find some way of getting into trouble. I make it a point to talk to local people or the hotel concierge and ask about things to avoid. It was the advice from a concierge in Florida that alerted us to the threat of fire ants. Telling my daughter to keep her shoes on while running in the grass saved her from painful bites when she inadvertently stepped on a nest full of these critters. The flora and fauna can vary in different locales and so ask questions and be alert for hazards.
Don't assume that because they are older your teens will be safe by osmosis. As teens deal with more and more adult issues, concerns about their safety increases. Driving, dating, relationships, identity, self esteem, peer pressure, sex, drugs and alcohol are just a few issues that can affect your teen's well being. Often teens will meet new peers while on vacation and be exposed to new situations. We want these experience to all be positive and good but unfortunately some things are out of our control. Of course teens think that they are indestructible and that their parents haven't a clue about life. This is compounded by the “fun” mind set that is suppose to accompany any vacation. Being on vacation can mean an escape from the daily rigors of school and chores. Some kids can interpret this to mean and escape from every rule they've ever known. It is a good practice to have an honest conversation with your kids before you leave for vacation. Express your safety concerns with them and outline for them the rules for behavior while you are away from home. Having a clear understanding before you go can help avoid confrontations and keep your teens safe from harm. There are probably millions of hazards out there that haven't been discussed in this article. The purpose of this article is not to promote doom and gloom. Vacations are suppose to be a time of fun and enjoyment. The purpose of this article is to help parents recognize the potential for trouble while away from their normal surroundings. Be alert and keep your kids safe. Being aware and watchful will help insure that everyone stays happy and healthy. The next time you and your family find yourselves in new surroundings, think of my friend Jeanne. Remember the tips in this article and pay extra attention to your child's safety.