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Expert Advice: Strangers and Safety During the Holidays

The holiday season is a joyful time of year, but it's also a time of year when you need to be extra-cautious when out and about with your child. Between frenzied trips to the mall for holiday shopping, crowded airports, and holiday parties, it can be hard to keep track of your little one in the crowds. Pattie Fitzgerald, founder and creator of Safely Ever After, Inc., has provided a list of holiday tips on her website, www.safelyeverafter.com, to help keep your children safe while you are preparing for the holidays. These holiday tips will help parents ensure that their children stay protected and have a healthy holiday season:

1. Talk to your kids before a family outing. Make a rule that you must always be able to see them and they must always be able to see you.. It may sound simple, but keep reminding them periodically, especially if you think they're getting restless.

2. Use the "two giant steps" rule -- your kids can never be more than two giant steps away from you. It's a fun and easy way for young children to remember not to wander away.

3. Teach your kids that if they ever become separated from you, they should look for a "safe stranger" for help. Some examples include a mom with kids or a cash register person. With older children, agree on a "meeting place" ahead of time, in case you become separated.

4. Tell you child never to leave the mall or store to go looking for you, no matter what anyone tells them. Remind your child that you would never leave until you are reunited.

5. Dress your child in brightly colored clothes to make him easy to spot.. Be sure to remember what they are wearing.

6. In busy places like airports or shopping malls, consider using a cute harness for toddlers who are prone to running off. There are lots of fun ones out there that look like a lion's tail or an elephant's trunk. Your child's safety is most important, so don't worry about what others think.

7. Establish the "check first" rule with older children. They must always check first with you before going anywhere in a public place, including another store, play area, or even the restroom.

8. Don't treat public facilities as a "convenient babysitter." Do not leave your children alone at video arcades, movie theaters, play areas, or other public places. Predators are known to look for unsupervised kids.

9. Always bring young children into the restroom with you. Look for well-lit restrooms in high traffic areas, whenever possible.

10. Statistically, the men's room isn't the safest place for a child to use alone. If you feel comfortable letting your older child (at least 9 years old) use the men's room alone, stand outside the door and call in as your child enters, "I'm right out here if you need me." It's a clear signal to anyone who may be hanging around in there that there's a parent close by. Your child is less of a target if a potential predator thinks there's a chance he could be caught. If you think your child's taking too long, open the door and call in, "Is everything okay?" If you don't get an answer or are unsure, enter the restroom immediately to be sure your child is safe. (Informing your child that you'll be doing this will encourage him to answer you quickly and not linger.)

11. Discuss age-appropriate safety issues with your child in a calm, non-fearful manner. Replace the word "strangers" with "tricky people." Let your child know that it isn't what people look like that makes them unsafe; it's what they ask a child to do that makes someone "thumbs down." Kids have been known to leave with a stranger because "he seemed nice" or "she didn't look like a stranger."

12. Make sure that your child knows your cell phone number.

For more information on Pattie Fitzgerald's Safely Ever After Program, visit her website at www.safelyeverafter.com.

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