Keeping kids safe when you hit the road

Consumer Reports News: July 22, 2011 12:08 PM

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Making sure your children are as safe away from home as they are under your own roof is an important part of any travel plan.

That may mean checking with the grandparents—or other family members or friends where you'll be staying—to be sure their home is appropriately child-proofed If you're not traveling with your own stuff, you'll want to be sure that the baby equipment where you're going is up to date and meets current safety standards, whether it's a crib, high chair, play yard, stroller, or extra car seat.

It's important that you not relax your vigilance, or supervision, when you're at hotels, playgrounds, malls, amusement parks, or interstate rest stops.

Nancy A. McBride, National Safety Director of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has some suggestions:

  • Always have a current digital photo of your child readily available.
  • When you're at an attraction, dress your child in bright, primary colors.
  • Never let your child go to a restroom unaccompanied.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and where your child is.
  • Impress on your child the need to stay together, with you.
  • Don't have your child wear personalized clothing or carry a backpack or suitcase with his name. This is to prevent your child from getting confused by someone she doesn't know calling her name.
"Your child should always be in your line of vision or be properly supervised if not with you," said McBride. "If you've lost the connection with your child, your child has lost the connection with you. Teach your child not to leave the immediate area if separated from you, and teach your child not to go out and try to find the car."

Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., MCHES, director of Research and Programs for Safe Kids Worldwide, has other suggestions to avoid potential injuries and accidents.

Before you even set out, she said, "Never leave your child alone in the car. A car is like a greenhouse and can heat up to dangerous levels very quickly."

At hotels, pay particular attention to the sharp angles and corners in the room. If there's a balcony, be sure you can securely lock the terrace door. You might want to pack a balcony guard to be sure your child can't fall or get stuck in a balcony's railings. Use the deadbolt to lock your room. Small children have been known to wander into hotel hallways in the middle of the night, and then be unable to get back in to their room. Check that the hotel crib is not a drop-side model and that you don't use pillows or bedding. Be sure, too, that the crib sheet fits the crib and is not a folded-over standard bed sheet that your baby could pull up, becoming entangled.

Don't leave your baby or child napping in the hotel room while you're downstairs at the pool or in the coffee shop. "One parent needs to be in the room," said Dr. Mickalide. "Wait until the baby wakes up."

There are other precautions. "Find out if the area is covered by 911," said Dr. Mickalide. "If not, ask what the local emergency phone number is. Know to call the national toll-free poison control hotline number, 1-800-222-1222, if your child has been exposed to poison." It's helpful to leave your purse, with cosmetics, medications, etc, on the top shelf of the closet, too, and not to leave these items in an accessible place in the bathroom.

When you go to an unfamiliar playground, check that there is "9 to12 inches of a forgiving surface, such as mulch, pea gravel, or rubber padding," she said. "The equipment should be in good repair. If there's all-wood playground apparatus, check that there are no splinters. There should be appropriate equipment for your child's age, and it should be clean.

"You can't take a vacation from safety," said Dr. Mickalide, "You have to be mindful of not letting down your guard in unfamiliar terrain."

See Are we there yet? 10 Tips for a stress-free road trip with kids

Merri Rosenberg

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