11 tips to keep children safe over the holidays

Summer is here, bringing with it the hard-to-resist promise of sun, sea and loved ones. Yet, the holiday season can also be a stressful time for families travelling. From navigating within large crowds to getting acquainted with an unfamiliar place, we understand the struggle of balancing sightseeing without losing sight of your kids.

Although it is not often talked about, losing your child while abroad or at the beach is extremely common. For example, nearly one in ten Irish parents have been “accidentally separated” from their child while abroad.[1] Meanwhile in July 2018, “a record 1.100 children escaped the watch of their families at the Belgian coast.”[2] Thankfully, these accidents rarely escalate,[3] especially when parents and children practice safety strategies. That’s where Missing Children Europe comes in. Here are 11 simple tips to keep your children safe over the holidays and restore your peace of mind:

1. Establish open communication channels
By establishing ongoing and honest communication with your children, you encourage them to speak freely about their desires, problems and experiences with challenging emotions such as shame, embarrassment, anger and fear. Listen actively and respond positively to their openness, especially regarding difficult topics. If your children view conversations with you as a space in which they feel safe and heard, they are much more like to be open when you ask them where they are going and with whom.

2. Trust your children and teach them to trust themselves
Intuition acts as an embodied indication that something feels unsafe. It can present as butterflies or a sinking feeling in the stomach, a shiver or hair prickling along the arms or a persistent, worrying thought. Talk to children about these feelings and teach them that they are meaningful. In response,they should pause and think about their safest choices, leave a situation and ask an adult for help if they are uncomfortable or feeling unsafe. Explain to them that their body is their own, that’s it’s okay to say ‘no’ and leave if they are uncomfortable and that others should respect those boundaries. Model that behaviour by checking in on their physical boundaries and respecting any limits that they place on you.

3. Teach your child basic safety information
If your child gets lost, make sure that they have enough information to ask for help. Does your child know their full name? Their address? Do they know your phone number? The hotline for missing children’s number (hint: its 116 000)? For very young children, you can write phone numbers on backpacks or labels and teach them to ask a shopkeeper or parent to call the number if they get lost.

4. Establish rules and boundaries before leaving
Going to a new place can be exciting and stressful for the entire family. Make sure to establish baseline rules and boundaries with your child before leaving on holiday.

5. If you are travelling in Europe, save the 116 000 in your phone
The network of missing children hotlines is currently active in 32 countries across Europe through the 116 000 number. The hotline provides free, 24/7 psychological, administrative and legal support to missing children and their families. No matter where you are in Europe, the 116 000 hotlines have your back.

6. Set expectations with the other parent before travelling abroad
International child abduction by a parent often occurs during the holiday season. Parents usually need permission from one another to move abroad with a child. Failing to obtain the necessary permission constitutes child abduction, even if you have shared parental authority. Make concrete arrangements before leaving and check if specific authorisation forms and procedures exist in your country.

7. Accessorise with a purpose
Bright and colourful clothes make it easier to keep an eye on your children in crowded places. And if you’ll be in a crowd, do the same! Make yourself easily visible so that if your children lose sight of you, they can find you again.

8. Make it a habit to designate a go-to spot
When you're out and about, agree on an easy to remember go-to spot in case you lose each other. Also issue reminders about the rules you established before the trip about where your child can go and what they should do if they get lost.

9. Outline a plan, just in case
In the case that you do lose your child, go to the last place you saw them or to a place where they might think to go. Younger children may have been attracted by balloons, water, music, etc. If you still can’t find them, contact the 116 000 European hotline for missing children for information, help and support.

10. Join the NotFound campaign
Launched by Missing Children Europe, NotFound replaces a website’s useless ‘404 error page’ with posters of missing children. Anyone with a website can download the app and help families find their loved ones.

11. Donate to Missing Children Europe
Last year, the 116 000 hotlines received 91 655 calls. Your support is vital for the continued existence of this hotline. Indeed, hotlines complained that a lack of financial resources was their main challenge in 2018. At Missing Children Europe, we coordinate the hotlines throughout Europe to ensure that they are effective and efficient. Please consider donating to us so that we can continue answering calls and providing support to parents and children in need.




[3]For instance, last year in Belgium “no major incidents were reported and the majority of children were reunited with their families within ten minutes” (Ibid.).

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