Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Safety Tips for Young Children

Once again, it is time to go over the obvious and not-so-obvious ways to keep our children safe during the holiday shopping season.

Children have such a tendency to become distracted, no matter how many times we tell them to pay attention. As with anything else, we must lead by example here. Be aware of your surroundings and follow common sense guidelines for your own safety.

When you take small children shopping, they often get tired or hungry early and may add more drama to the experience than you would like. They can also be prone to wander, be curious and cause a little mischief. It is better to leave them in the care of a trusted relative or friend during the rush of the holiday season if at all possible.

If you must take small children, keep them at your side AT ALL TIMES. Our precious little ones become the target of would-be evildoers, especially this time of year. We must keep our guard up and teach the little ones that there are bad people out there and they must stay with mommy at all times. This is not negotiable and you must be firm and consistent about it.

With children slightly older, they will want some independence and really push those barriers. You must keep in mind that now is not the time to allow them to move into the unknown alone. Do not allow them to go unescorted to the restroom, food court, toy isle or video arcade. Do not allow them to go by themselves to "check out" something cool they saw in another shop.

Do not, under any circumstances, allow your child to go alone to the car, nor should the child be left alone in the car. You should not allow even 2 small children to go alone to the car or be left alone in the car. Safety in numbers does not include 2 small children alone in a vehicle.

Teach your children to stay with you and that if you are ever somehow separated, they must know their name, phone number and address. They should go to a person of authority at the store and tell that person to contact you. They must know it is okay to ask for help from someone who works for the store as a clerk, security person, etc. Point these people out to your child so he or she will recognize them if needed.

Tell your children to inform you if anyone is bothering them, talking to them, or following them. That is important.

While these are tips that many will find familiar, it is important to go over them and keep safety at the top of our holiday "to do" lists.

Holiday Safety Tips for the Kids at Heart

During this holiday season, keep in mind that it's not just the little ones who need to be careful. As independent and strong as we are, we are still kids at heart. We must remember to avoid the holiday distractions that prevent us from using our common sense. We have to stay aware of our surroundings and follow the time-tested methodology for staying safe out there.

Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to people and vehicles around you. Be cautious of people following you or strangers approaching you for any reason.

Make sure that you park in well-lit, well-populated areas that are close to the shopping center entrance. Shop 'til you drop can become more than a catch-phrase if you park a half-mile from the mall.

Shop early and do not stay out after dark if possible.

If possible, take someone with you. That old saying about safety in numbers is true, and there is no shame in choosing to have someone go along rather than going it alone.

If you must go alone, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to return. Take your cell phone with you, use it.

Carry your driver's license/ID card, and credit/debit cards on your person rather than in a purse or other handbag. Do not carry cash unless absolutely necessary. If you must carry cash, keep it in your front pocket. Do not advertise that you are carrying cash.

Keep your keys handy. Do not make yourself a target by digging through your pockets or shopping bags looking for your keys.

Do not overburden yourself with bulky bags and too many packages. These can get in the way and make seeing around you more difficult. They can also prevent you from making a quick escape should that become necessary.

Dress casually and comfortably. This is wise on several fronts, but you do not want to be caught trying to run  - either to a good sale or from an assailant - when you are wearing heels.

Do not wear expensive jewelry. Again, it is not wise to advertise in this regard.

Remember, there are people out there who will be on the lookout for more than a good sale item this Christmas season, so let's watch our backs and stay safe out there...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Holidays Are Approaching...Let's Make it a Season for Miracles

The holiday season is rapidly approaching, and with it comes the familiar, warming comfort that envelopes us and makes us nostalgic, more open and inviting towards one another. It is a time in which we tend to let go of animosity that we may be harboring and embrace peace and family.

For those who have a missing loved one, however, it is also a time of bitter loss and constant reminders of their absence. Someone is missing from her regular place at the usually festive dinner table, there are no presents under the tree with her name on them, no pretty crafts or decorations made at school, no Christmas pageants to attend to watch her sing and dance. When a child is missing, every day is a struggle and requires the "one foot in front of the other" mentality just to go on at times, but the Christmas season can become a particularly cruel and difficult time to endure. It is critical that we reach out to those who are suffering at this time and assure them that we will continue searching, continue fighting for justice for their loved one. They need comfort and support now, and they need to know that we are still there, still searching.

It can be a little note or email, a text or tweet...something. Remember, what we are doing for others is reinforcing ourselves as well. Helping others is uplifting, especially during the holidays. If you are on a case now, reach out to your team with that can-do attitude and maybe something special planned for the holiday time, a new search idea perhaps. If you are not on a case now, find one. Be proactive, start a new campaign for a missing child or a cold case. Pass out flyers, start a facebook page. DO something. It will all come back to you, believe me. This is a time for miracles. You could be that miracle for some lost child out there and the family who so desperately wants them home.

We also must take advantage of the holiday season and the hopeful, inspiring message it provides. Let's focus on being hopeful and faithful that our search efforts will pay off. It is easy to be negative and pesamistic. However, let's face it, no one does what we do because it is easy. This holiday season, let's join together and double our efforts to find these children, think of new places to look and new ways to find them. Be effective, be proactive, and most of all, be hopeful.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watch "Every Parent's Nightmare" 7pmEST/4pmPST on HLN

"Every Parent's Nightmare" is airing on Thursday and Friday HLN as part of the "Issues" Series with Jane Velez-Mitchell.

This show is focusing on parents grieving for the loss of their children and yet turning that grief into action for the sake of our children.

It is difficult but we must face these issues head-on if we are to move forward. After all, isn't it time that there should be no more legislation named after abducted and murdered children? Think about that.

We must be proactive and put pressure on our government from the local level upward to insist on putting children's safety first. We must also remember that their safety begins at home and we must educate ourselves and our children and continue to do so as they grow older and encounter new challenges.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Emotional Challenges of Joining Physical Searches for Missing Children

I recently read an article, "Searching with Dread for Missing Children," written by Bob Greene, a CNN Contributor. In the article, Greene discusses some of the emotional challenges that we face as searchers. Although I would be more pleased if the author had expanded his writing to list the many times that missing children have actually been abducted or wandered off and had been rescued, I am pleased that the opinion from his viewpoint of the average searcher is a positive one and he has painted us in a positive light. I do get the sense, however, that perhaps he thinks we may be misguided even fooled at times but yet he seems to admire our tenacity nonetheless.

The article echoes many of the comments made here and in many forums in the past concerning the hopeful attitude that we must consistently maintain. While the article is focused mainly on physical searches for missing children, I found it relevant in relation to the reasoning behind the hopeful attitude we embrace while searching for missing children in any situation.

Most of us have been involved in searching for missing children via poster distribution, mass mailing, email campaigns, facebook/social networking, etc. Some of us have had the opportunity to be involved in the hands-on physical searches as well. When you are physically out there searching for clues of a child who is missing, it changes the dynamic of the search for you personally. You become intimately and actively engaged in the effort and both physically and emotionally invested in its outcome.

Many searches involve a child that has wandered off or somehow become separated from his parents. In some cases, even after extended periods of time, due to the undaunting efforts of the persistent and diligent searchers, the child is found safe and unharmed. This is rewarding beyond words but can leave searchers physically and emotionally overwhelmed. Unfortunately, many endings are not happy ones and searchers are either devastated at finding a deceased child or left in a hellish limbo when neither the child nor any clues or evidence of him is found. 

At times, when we are searching for a missing child we may be doing so under a cloud of suspicion over one or both of the child's parents or someone connected to loved ones.  Alternatively, we may learn from the outset that law enforcement suspects the child was abducted and they are canvassing the neighborhoods and interviewing sexual predators and offenders that reside in or frequent the area. When a child is missing under these circumstances, there is always an added sense of urgency. We must do our best to separate ourselves from these details, however, and stay focused on the task before us.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the reason a child is missing, when we are searching for clues to find that child or evidence of him, we do so focused on the hope that the child is alive and that we will get to him in time. We have to maintain a sense of optimism because that is what drives us forward. Without hope, we simply do not have the same mindset and motivation to keep us going, searching for that lost child.

You can volunteer to join in a search for a missing child on a single case, as a basically untrained but dedicated volunteer, or you can become a trained Search and Rescue member as an individual or part of a team. If you are interested in pursuing Search and Rescue further, I would suggest contacting the National Association for Search and Rescue via their website. They are a wonderful organization that I am proud to be a member of and they offer a wide range of training and continuing education for all levels from beginners to experts.

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