Child Safety Series: Holiday “Stranger Danger”

Each month this series will provide important facts and tips surrounding child safety in an effort to support parents and caregivers as they navigate reducing risks and creating the safest environment possible for the children in their lives. 

Understanding Elevated Risks During the Holidays

Winter holidays are best known for the memories we make with the ones we love, especially the little ones in our lives. Often these memories involve fun seasonal events and excursions with family and friends frequenting new places with new people all around. That in addition to the hustle and bustle of frequent shopping trips to get presents, added childcare for adult holiday functions and simple distractions this time of year can have increased opportunity for child endangerment.  

In an effort to keep this holiday season magical for you and your kids, we’ve rounded up some important and helpful tips to avoid safety issues when it comes to “stranger danger.” 

  1. Be clear and repetitive with your kids about family outings and the expectation of needing to be able to see one another at all times. Depending on age, if they are more than a few feet away, they’ve gone too far. 
  2. Dress your children in bright or coordinating colors with their siblings to be able to keep them in direct sight. Consider taking a photo of them before outings to ensure you remember what they were wearing in case of separation. 
  3. When in larger public spaces like an airport or theme park, depending on the age and maturity of your children, consider using a cute harness to keep them close. It does not matter what others think, safety comes first. 
  4. Make practicing important contact information a weekly occurrence to help create confidence in children and preteens to know their full name, address and their parents or guardian’s full names and cell phone numbers. 
  5. Always bring children into a public restroom with you rather than leave them outside to wait alone, especially at parades, festivals, shopping malls and more. 
  6. Thoroughly look into any new childcare options you decide to try out during the holidays and get references or complete background checks if possible. 
  7. Tempting as it may be, avoid putting children’s names on their clothing or accessories such as hats, backpacks, jackets, shirts and more. This makes it easy for an adult to pretend to know your child to gain trust, even though they do not. 
  8. Don’t utilize public spaces as “safe childcare” options, such as movie theaters, skating rinks, bowling alleys and more, since predators are more likely to feel comfortable approaching unsupervised children at public locations. 
  9. Remind kids that they always need to check in first and get your permission before going anywhere with another adult or child, even when it’s someone that they know.
  10. Keep all doors of vehicles locked with all valuables or holiday shopping bags out of sight– especially at shopping malls–to keep thieves from being tempted to break in. 

Establishing and Practicing a Separation Plan

It’s always better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, especially where safety is concerned. Sit your children down and have a conversation about what to do (and not to do) should they ever get separated from you or their caregiver. Make sure it’s done in an age- appropriate way and with effort not to scare, but prepare them. 

Here are a few things to consider as part of your “Separation Plan” with your child: 

  • If you cannot find me, look for a “safe stranger” like a cashier, police officer, mom with her kids or stroller and let them know you need help finding me. 
  • I will never leave where we are, until I find you, so you should never leave the location to go looking for me, regardless of what someone else may say. 
  • Agree on a meeting place with older children, should they become separated at an event or large venue, and you need to find each other. 

Taking Action If a Child Goes Missing or Is Endangered

  • Immediately call your local law enforcement agency as well as notify Security at the location (if applicable), should a child go missing or you fear possible endangerment. Provide them with your child’s name, date of birth, height, weight, hair color, any descriptions of unique identifiers and what clothing they were wearing. Once you’ve reported the child missing, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

Helpful Resources to Learn More


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