Free The Leash Kids!

Free The Leash Kids!

Tips for Keeping Your Sanity and Kids Safe in Crowds

Taking children into extremely crowded situations can be daunting for parents. Suddenly the airports, fairs, and shopping malls seem more like tests of parental abilities to keep track of lightning-fast children. There are ways you can enjoy and survive the throngs of people without losing your child, or your sanity, and you can do it all without tethering your child by a leash (even if it has a cute bear for a backpack to distract from the idea that it is a leash for humans).

  • Make sure the activity or event is really appropriate for your kids. Heading to the airport can’t be avoided if you want to visit relatives – together – but your 2-year-old might not really feel left out of the festivities if you don’t take her to the mall on Black Friday.

    Several years ago my husband and I ventured with our very young children to the state fair, using a double stroller for 2 of the kids, wearing the youngest in a pack, and holding the hand of the oldest. We made one wide sweep through the fair, our children for the most part staring at the hind ends of the adults walking by, and vowed not to do that to our kids again. Until they could manage through the crowds without having slushies dripped on their heads and actually care if the princess had her likeness carved in butter, there was no real need to take them back.

  • Establish ground rules and expectations for your child before entering the crowd. Explain that the crowd will make things more difficult, but that makes it more important to listen well and stay with an assigned person. If you make certain rules before passing through the gates and explain their value, such as always holding hands, it will be easier to remind the kids of the rules instead of trying to flounder to create new ones in the midst of chaos.
  • Have a back-up disaster plan. Kids will be kids, and in crowded places like fairs and malls, it is easy for them to get distracted and lose you in a split second. Teach them how to react when that happens. Some of the basic rules we set up for our kids when they were barely old enough to walk included:
    • Freeze like a statue and count to 20 or sing a song. In crowded places it makes it so much more difficult to find your kids if you are both wandering. Teaching them to freeze narrows down your search location and increases the likelihood that someone will notice their plight.
    • Teach them to ask another mother for assistance. Often other moms are the best people to look to in times of crisis and they will understand what the child is going through – and you.
    • Keep it loud. We taught our kids to feel free to make some noise if they ever got lost. Our daughter tested that idea at the mall one holiday season when she toddled off to go around the counter, and realized we didn’t follow. In 1 split second we heard, “Moooooommmmm!” at the top of her lungs, and knew instantly where she was. We found her (she wasn’t really lost, but felt like she was), and praised her for letting us know where she was.
    • Establish a meeting place with older kids. Pick out a clearly visible landmark where everyone can meet if you get separated. For us at the state fair last year it was the DNR tower, visible from any location at the fairgrounds.
  • Dress for success. Since the kids were tiny tots I have used a color code system to help me keep track of them in crowded places. At the zoo they might all wear their tie-died t-shirts, or everyone might wear red shirts to Underwater World. It is not a fail proof plan for keeping track of them but I can quickly scan for them via their wardrobe. And if anyone ever does get lost, it will be that much easier for me to describe what he is wearing in my moment of panic.
  • Always bring along a current photo ID of your child, especially to places like the airport or other locations far from home. Fast access to accurate descriptions can lead to faster, happier outcomes.
  • Consider and then reconsider ideas like leashes. While some parents swear by the use of leashes for kids, there are both safety concerns and learning disadvantages that you risk when tethering your child to you. The leashes can be a danger for kids who get tangled as parents enjoy false senses of security. I recently came back from the state fair where many parents were using leashes with their kids. Most of those kids wandered at the full distance the leash would allow, and the parents were oblivious as to their actions at the end of the tether. Kids who are regularly tethered are also at risk of failing to follow their parents’ instructions for safety and instead learn that being close to Mom and Dad is a forced affair, one from which they should try to escape (if it wasn’t for that cute little bear on the back keep guard).

    On the other hand, parents who were attentive to their children by either hand holding or walking right next to their child seemed to be truly present with their kids during the day. The taught leashes also make for difficult navigating for others around the child, increasing the likelihood that someone will trip. If your child is not ready to enjoy the event or activity without being restrained by a leash, perhaps she would prefer a rousing afternoon of Chutes and Ladders with a beloved babysitter while parents roam the fair solo.

Parents face so many struggles with their kids. Surviving crowds shouldn’t have to take away the family fun. Try to keep your sanity, enjoy the day, and prepare for the unexpected. And free the leash kids!


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  1. Jessica says:

    This is a great article!!!


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