Black Friday is behind us, but many still have a lot of shopping to do over the coming weeks. Shopping with young children is always a challenge. Here are some simple ways to keep your experience in the store positive and safe:
- First and foremost, remember that your children are your priority. Don't allow yourself to get distracted in the store and let them roam around by themselves. Children alone in stores are easy targets for predators.
- Make sure that babies and non-walkers are secured in their stroller or in a shopping cart; and take plenty of toys or snacks to keep them occupied while you shop. Choose a cart with safety belts that are intact so that your little one can be strapped in safely.
- Walkers should be with you at all times in the store, either holding onto the shopping cart or holding your hand. Some parents use a harness/leash mechanism to keep track of children in the store. If you do this, you need to make sure that the leash isn't so long that it can get caught in the wheels of the cart or pull items from the shelves as your little one walks around corners.
- As you enter any store with young walkers, talk to them about staying with you and then make a plan so that they know what to do if you get separated. Point out a sign or a landmark that they can easily find from any point in the store and make that the meeting place. Remind them that they should never approach a male shopper for assistance if they are lost. Tell them to approach a store clerk in uniform (be sure they know what the uniform looks like) or a mother with children.
- Remind them that they should never exit the store with anyone, even if that person tells them he saw you leave. Tell them that anyone who is helping them should take them to a cashier or to customer service.
- It's a great idea to snap a full-length photo of your children (including shoes) with your cell phone whenever you take them out in public. If you get separated, you'll likely be flustered and unable to remember specifics about your child's attire, and the photo will help authorities or anyone else who is looking for your child. Why photograph the shoes? In extreme cases, kidnappers have been known to change a child's appearance quickly by switching clothes, putting on a hat or a wig. Shoes are not as easily switched because of the sizing issue.
- If you lose your child in the store, don't waste precious moments looking for your child. Immediately go to customer service and let them know. Most big retailers and many smaller ones practice "Code Adam," a national program named in honor of John Walsh's son Adam, that trains store personnel to respond quickly and efficiently to a lost child situation. Stores who practice Code Adam will have an emblem displayed at the store entrance.
Children who are bored are more likely to wander off and get lost. One great way to keep your children safe and happy while shopping is keep them engaged. Allow them to help you find items on the shelf, or pick sizes or colors for you, play "I Spy" as you're moving through the store. With a little work on your part, shopping can be safe and fun for everyone.