Boy Toys, Girl Toys and What Kids Learn When We Allow Them To Choose

vet_hospitalsmAs a parent, I often wonder about how the toys and role models in my children’s lives translate to behavior.  I tend to be the kind of mother who encourages a wide range of toys, games and books.  I am less about banning (unless it is truly counter to our family’s core character-based values) and more about providing a continuum of options so that my children gain experience, choice and understanding.

That means that we have everything from princess dress up and dolls to blocks, science kits, dump trucks and dinosaurs.  And both of my children play with whatever they choose to that day.  Yes, my son has put on a tutu while bouncing and laughing in our basement bounce house and my daughter has crashed Batman and Wonder Woman action figures into a tower of blocks, saving the “little people” trapped inside from disaster.  I’ve played race cars with my son while crawling around on the kitchen floor and my husband has played dolls with my daughter while cuddling in the den. To me, it’s all good.

But I sometimes see that a range is not provided or accepted in households around America and elsewhere.  Boys play with “boy things” and girls play with “girl things” exclusively.  What do our children miss out on when toys, books and games are selected for them rather than allowing them to gravitate naturally to what interests and intrigues them?  What do they gain when they are the masters of the toys, games and books they see?

While it may not be obvious, my feeling is, quite a bit.  When our children are masters of their own toy rooms, they learn what they love.  They gain a more complex understanding about history, empathy, technology, language, engineering, art and science.  They learn that their personal passions are valid and imagination or play of many kinds are fun.

I asked my 2 ½ year old son what he liked about wearing a tutu in the bounce house a few weeks back and he told me; “It’s funnyyyy! And I yike how it goes up and down when I jump!” Yes, yes, that makes sense.  He likes the science of it—a piece of clothing that catches air when you jump is cool! Isn’t that…awesome?!  And here some might be stressing out about what wearing a tutu in a bounce house can do to a boy’s “future masculinity” but truthfully, he couldn’t care less.  He’s having a blast! Can’t we just let children play?

Skip to the cars as I asked the same question; “What do you like about racing cars in the kitchen?” My son answered; “they go weally, weally fast and woooooh they cwash!” Yup. Physics. Mechanics. Cause and effect.  Good for every gender!

spidermansm-200x300My daughter has been known to “acquire” my son’s Batman figure as well as his Spiderman book.  She asked for a Superhero book of her own for her most recent birthday that features Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all together.  She’s even going as Wonder Woman to a Superhero/Princess birthday party this weekend.  When I asked Tallie what she likes about Wonder Woman, she told me; “She’s cool! She fights cwime!” Justice. Power. Self reliance.  Good for every gender!

And the lessons generalize to other areas of life. I saw something pretty remarkable the other day at the playground.  As Tallie was climbing up a steep slide, she struggled to reach the top.  Her brother, already at the top put out his hand and exclaimed; “Tawwie! I’wl save you!”  I saw her stop for a moment and look at her brother. Then she just kept climbing as she called back; “I don’t need saving! I can do it myself!”  These words are rooted in countless conversations we’ve had while playing both princesses and Superheroes.  Don’t wait to be saved; save yourself.

superheroessmThis morning, Wonder Woman single-handedly stopped an oncoming train from crashing into the building of blocks that we all built together– and Batman rescued the people off the train. Unfortunately, there was a casualty.  The Wonder Woman action figure was decapitated.  Who makes a Superhero with such a flimsy neck? She’s an Amazon Princess Warrior for cripes sake– not a runway model! Ah, well, off to the store to invest in a Wonder Woman toy that can hold her ground…and keep up with my kids!

 

 

 

Heavy choices: Would you put your 7 year old on a diet?

dara-lynnweiss-300x168This morning I was on the set up for a segmenton Dara-Lynn Weiss- the mother who was made famous for publicly putting her daughter, age 7, on a diet. Her daughter’s doctor had told Dara-Lynn that her daughter was obese and was immediately put on a strict diet of limited foods and counting calories.

What would you do in the same situation? It’s a difficult choice. Clearly the doctor was concerned about the child’s health and we are all too familiar with the psychological repercussions of children, dieting and weight stereotyping.

Every parent wants their children to grow up healthy and happy. So it’s not surprising that when a parent hears their children’s weight is compromising their health, that they jump into action . But parents need to tread lightly here. Whatever you say to your children about weight and diet will provide the template for how those children will regard weight and diet for the rest of their lives. Will they see food as a delicious way to gain energy and health or will they view food as the enemy?

There are so many messages that tell children that they are not good enough the way that they are— we don’t want to convey a value judgment when it comes to food and weight, but rather, teach our children that when we eat in healthy ways, we gain the energy we need to live our best life. I believe we can change a child’s relationship with food without putting a child on a “diet” – do you?

Take a look at the segment. What do YOU think? If you were this mother, would you choose the same path or would you do something different?

 

 

 

The Many Sides of Girls: From Spiderman to Princesses and Everything In Between

tallie_farm-205x300The first thing my daughter, Tallie, wanted to do this morning was go downstairs and have me read her two Spiderman stories from her brother’s new Adventures of Spiderman book he received for Hanukkah last night.  So that’s what I did.  It was from that book that I read her a good night story before bed last night (because nothing says sleep like Spidey against “Lizardman”).  She has also taken a liking to her brother’s new Hess helicopter and truck (so we got her one too that she’ll get for Hanukkah one night).

Tallie loves to climb, tickle-wrestle, play with cars, play baseball, roll in leaves, make snow angels and run.  She also loves to play dress up, play dolls, play pretend and get her nails done with Mommy.

My point is that she is beautifully complicated and multi-faceted.  She is not one-note.  And my guess is, neither is your daughter.

nature_talchar-200x300As parents we must be careful.  Society tells us that girls are meant to love princesses and pink—and some of them do—but not all of them—and for those who do, that’s not all they love.  And it’s vital to our girls’ healthy development that we nurture all sides of them.

The side that likes to pretend.  The side that likes to build.  The side that likes to do puzzles.  The side that likes to run, jump and get dirty.  And the side that likes to read about everything from superheroes to bugs (a current interest of Tallie’s) to space to princesses and whatever else perks their curiosity from one week to the next.

My point it; we can’t let society dictate what our daughters love.  We must let our girls do that.  I’m currently coaching one mom who said to me on a recent coaching call; “I’m really not a fan of swimming so I’m not all that excited about it.  But my daughter is.”  Yup.  Sometimes we are not “in” to what our daughters like.

Tallie asked me for a book on caterpillars last week— not exactly one of my top interests but we got one out from the library.  I so want my daughter to be curious, ask to learn more and have a way of delving in.  Each time she does this, she acquires knowledge.  But she also learns how to learn and how to nurture her own curiosity.  The byproduct is probably more important than the immediate learning.

It would be so easy to create a child who is a reflection of our own image.  But is that really the goal?  As parents, we are charged with the job of bringing out the best in our children—the best version of themselves that they can be rather than the most convenient version of them that we would like to see.  There is typically a difference.  And while it takes courage to open our eyes and work to help them achieve the goals that light them up inside, as parents, we can help them discover who they truly are, the gifts they can bestow on the world and the people they were always meant to become.

Girls will continue to span a beautiful and diverse continuum of what it means to be a girl.  Some will feel best enveloped in pink, frilly dresses playing with dolls and drawing rainbows.  Others will feel most at home digging in the dirt, playing sports and reading about Superman and Wonderwoman.  But my guess, is that while many will fall somewhere in between, most are destined to jump around that continuum surprising us all.  And that’s one of the best parts, isn’t it?

vet_hospital-225x300On Sunday morning, Tallie, dressed in her “Dora the Explorer” nightgown, sequestered herself in her room, playing with her “animal hospital” she helped build with her Daddy the night before. On line to be “checked out” were several horses, a tiny kitten, a goat, a sheep and an alien. At the “reception desk” was one of the new “Lottie dolls” dressed in a blue sparkly shirt and a faux fur vest while another Lottie doll, dressed in a frilly purple dance dress, played nurse to her “Dr. Tallie.”

She asked me to play with her as she got her doctor tools ready for x-rays and surgery. “Dr. Mommy,” she explained confidently, “this goat has a fwog in its fwoat.  He needs a hug and to take medicine fah 10 days.” She dispensed her pretend medicine and then carefully laid him down on her favorite soft purple blanket in her bed.  We went on to diagnose a sick pig, a dog with a broken leg and a feverish cow.  I find it fascinating what her mind comes up with while she’s engrossed in play.

After 45 minutes or so, she hugged me and smiled a huge smile. “I yuv you, Mommy. I yuv you the whole world!” To which I responded, “And I love you my sweet love…every single side of you.”

And I do.  I really do.

 

Amanda Todd: Teen Ends Her Life After Relentless Battle with Bullying

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHXGNx-E7E

I’m stuck. What’s left of me now…nothing stops.  I have nobody. I need someone. ?

amanda-todd-300x225Amanda Todd, a once, promising happy young Canadian girl committed bullycide on Wednesday after relentless, senseless attacks– physical, emotional and psychological– over several years followed her from town to town.

Her horrible story is hauntingly told in a youtube video with cue cards and shaking hands. What began in seventh grade when, she wrote, “I would go with friends on webcam [to] meet and talk to new people.” A stranger made her feel attractive and convinced her to flash the camera.  A mistake that would unravel into years of stalking, black-mailing and bullying, this girl was shamed and made to feel worthless.

Even when moving to place to place to get away from the abuse, the tormenters would find her and continue to cyberbully and physically bully this young woman who was trying her best to find someone who would love her as she is.  She spiraled into depression, complicated by intense and crippling anxiety, self hatred, self harm, and private self-bullying (see the connection between bullying, mental health and suicidehere and how to report responsibly on suicide here).

At one point, 50 kids bullied her at one time.  A boy had lead Amanda on, told her he liked her, and slept with her only to gang up on her later with his then girlfriend and friends.  “Just punch her!” they yelled.  The kids filmed it. Her father found her in a ditch later that day.  Even then, she didn’t want to press charges and get anyone else into trouble.  Her self worth was obliterated.  She went home and drank bleach– which landed her in the hospital– and urged on her tormenters to make fun of her that much more– and even urge her to kill herself.

Sadly, that’s exactly what she did.  At the end of this video, uploaded just last month, she writes “I have nobody.  I need someone.”

amandatodd_cheer-200x300I think this is the legacy she leaves– a message to all of us to be the someone these kids need.  Studies tell us that a majority of young people don’t feel that they have at least three people to turn to in a time of need or challenge (see more on this in the new Bully book I am proud to have been part of along with Rosalind Wiseman and Michele Borba).  As I tell my audiences when I present on bullying;

Please, be one of the three. Because you may actually be the only one. I know it’s hard. I know we’re all busy. I know we have no time. But cries for help don’t wait for a hole in our schedules.

It’s National Anti-bullying month and it’s way past time to make a change and commit to making this situation better for those who are suffering.

Peace be with you, Amanda Todd. I am so infuriated…So saddened by this tragic story and the many others that tell a tale of struggle and loss. How could this continue to go on like this? We must do better for you so it can get better for all.

 

 

 

Making Friends: Teaching Kids (and Ourselves) About Real Friendship

Navigating new friendships can feel complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.  Whether you are 3, 13, 33 or 63, certain rules of friendship are constant.  Here are some things I teach my children and also, remind myself of to this day:

(1) Allow great friendships to happen organically: We may feel lonely. And we may want a group of supportive, wonderful friends that seem to be featured all over TV today. That doesn’t mean it happens instantaneously. Friendships happen over time.  Create opportunity to allow friendships to grow and thrive without forcing them to happen.  When we force friendships, everyone feels awkward and the opportunity for real friendship to form is diminished.

(2) Just because you’re friends with certain people, doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with someone else: There is a tendency for cliques to form in both childhood and adulthood.  Be careful you are not shutting out the opportunity to meet other great people outside of your proscribed group.  When we shut out such opportunities, we also diminish our own chance to grow and become better, more well-rounded people.

3) Gossip is an ugly habit: If you are finding that you and your friends drama-201x300have a habit of talking negatively about others, give it a rest.  Gossip creates drama.  And frankly, it’s just an ugly thing to do. There are too many other wonderful and interesting things to talk about besides other people. If your typical friends won’t stop gossiping, it may be time to go out with some other friends.

(4) Branch Out: Try meeting new people.  Join a new class, go outside your town, attend a meet-up or go someplace you haven’t been before.  Spend less time on Facebook and give people more Facetime in order to get to know others better. Ask someone new to join you for a playdate, cup of coffee, or a walk around the park.  When we branch out, we give new friendships a chance to grow.

(5) Nurture the friendships that feel mutually easy, refreshing & positive: Sometimes we overlook the friends we have in exchange for focusing on the ones we wish we had.  Think of those people who have always been consistent, strong friends. Make sure you carve out time to be with them and show them that their friendship is important to you.

(6) Get back to people: If people call, message or ask you to get together, give them the courtesy of an answer.   Even if you would prefer not to go out with them, have the character to be respectful of their time and their feelings.  Ignoring people is rude whether you are a child or an adult.  It feels horrible. The Golden Rule Applies—do unto others as you would have done to you.

(7) If you don’t feel good when you are around them, move on:  Friendship should feel good most of the time.  If you find that you don’t feel like yourself or feel unsure of yourself when you are with certain friends, either talk about it openly with them so you can address the problem or move on. True friends don’t want you to be anything other than what you are because they like the real you.

While some friendships might take work, most of the time, they should feel pretty easy, meaningful, fulfilling and fun. Friendship should make you feel like the best version of yourself. If you have at least one friendship that does that for you, count yourself very lucky.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Ask Dr. Robyn: Teaching Children Accountability and Responsibility

Dr. Robyn Silverman answers one parent’s question about how to teach her children to be responsible and accountable for their own messes and mistakes.

Question answered: Dear Dr. Robyn. My sister’s kids are always leaving a mess for her to clean up.  My kids are young and I just don’t want them to do the same thing.  How can I teach them to be responsible for their own messes and mistakes? Pam, New York, NY

The Day I Become a Mother at Whole Foods Market

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It was exactly 4 years ago this week that I received a call that changed my life.  I was in Whole Foods. Hingham, Massachusetts.  Frozen Foods section.

“Hello, Robyn? It’s your social worker, Carla.  Are you sitting down?”

I looked around at the walls of freezers and the cold linoleum floor.  “Ummm, not exactly.” I bit my lip. My stomach started doing flip flops. I knew this was it. “Let me head outside so I can really hear you.” I left my cart next to the frozen peas and spinach and high tailed it out of there. “OK. I’m outside.”

There was a pause of anticipation.  It felt like there should be some kind of drum roll.

“Congratulations, Mommy! You’ve been matched!”

“Oh my God.” I put my hand over my heart. My breath was stuck inside my lungs waiting to hear who had chosen us to parent her child.  But in actuality, I knew.

You see, I had been holding on to a single email with this potential birth mother’s name and information on it for a week since it came in to my inbox.  There was something about it that called to me—a deep knowing that she was growing our baby inside of her. In fact, it was the only “baby” email I printed out and took with me to Las Vegas where I spoke at a conference just a few days before. The email was still in the my purse as I stood there outside of Whole Foods market clutching my phone to my ear, closing my eyes and hoping that I wasn’t dreaming.

For four years I had waited for this moment.  We were pregnant.  Well, not me, exactly.  But we were having a baby. And I had learned the hard way that this was the most important thing.  We were making a family.

After getting all the information on next steps, I hung up the phone and exhaled the countless breaths that had been stuck inside my body for too long. Turning my face up to the sun I thanked God audibly.  My eyes were wet with grateful tears—an incredible change from the gut-wrenching cries I had thrown up after each miscarriage, misstep, and misleading test.

“What am I going to do now?” I wondered. Can I really go food shopping after this news? Gathering up frozen food items and fresh produce just didn’t seem worthy of this news. And I wasn’t going to tell Jason over the phone that he was going to be a Daddy.  No way.  This moment was too important!

But as you might imagine, I was bursting. So I went back inside Whole Foods and found my cart, headed over to the deli counter and did what any woman would have done in my situation.  I told the deli guy! Who called over the other people behind the counter, who called over some other people…and there were shouts of congratulations and some teary smiles. It was fabulous. It felt really, really good.

As I put my grocery bags in my car I smirked at the thought that I had gone into the store a wife and had come out a mother.  Not too many people can say that, huh? One of the best moments of my life started in the frozen foods section, moved outside their front door and made it’s first announcement at the Deli Counter of Whole Foods market in Hingham, Massachusetts. A shopping trip I will never forget.

What’s your story? Tell us here or on Facebook!

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From Princess to Trucker: How Our Children Can Color Inside & Outside the Gender Lines

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Tallie; on Saturday as a princess and on Sunday as a trucker!

My daughter loves to twirl around in a tutu.  She loves to play “trucks” and “doctor.” She pretends to be a fairy princess and a dinosaur. She climbs.  She runs. She kicks. She investigates bugs and touches worms. She plays with dolls, gets elbow deep in water play at the sink and digs in the sand at the playground. Oh, and she gets dirty.  Boy, can she do that well. She loves it all.

My husband and I have chosen to let her find her own way when it comes to her passions and her preferences.   We expose her to all different kinds of experiences and watch what she enjoys.  We don’t pigeon hole or steer clear of anything because it’s too “girly” or too “boyish.” I don’t really care what the labels are.  She is who she is and I love it.

Last Saturday she dressed up as a princess for her good friend’s “royal” dance party.  Pearls, a tiara, a fancy pink dress with a tutu attached.  She was in her glory.

On Sunday we took her to “Touch-A-Truck” where she could get in real tractors, cranes, buses, ambulances and back hoes and work the levers, pull the horn, push the buttons, and open and close the doors.  Again, she was in her glory. She is free to float up and down the preset gender continuum and it’s a beautiful thing.

If we are to help our daughters and our sons truly become all that they can be, they can’t be boxed in, pushed down and told to remain strong-footed on one side or the other of some prefabricated line. As parents and teachers, it is up to us to open our children up to the whole world rather than closing them off to a part that might make them truly feel at home.

For us, we feel that if our daughter is to become the person she was meant to be on this planet, we can’t limit her. Keeping safety and character in tact, we simply don’t keep her from experiencing, exploring and experimenting.  I want her to keep all 5 senses open and sharp so she can discover…herself.

No boxes, no ceilings, no lines. Just her. In her glory.

drrobynsig170

 

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From Princess to Trucker: How Our Children Can Color Inside & Outside the Gender Lines is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System

“I hate you!” Six Tips to Help Parents Deal with Their Child’s Angry Words

tantrumgirl-300x199“I hate you!”

No…your child’s body has not been taken over by aliens.  You do not need to clean out your ears. That’s right.  You heard it correctly.

Any person who has ever said that “words will never hurt you” never had their child say “I hate you” to his face. You know.  It has probably happened to you.

Being a parent is tough sometimes, isn’t it?  You know in your head that your child does not really hate you.  But when he utters those words…it’s hard not to feel a surge of sadness, frustration, hurt or anger.

We often don’t know what to do when our kids come out with these verbal lashings.  It’s unexpected.  Shocking. Isn’t this the little cherub that hugs you 20 times a day and can’t go to bed unless you’re there to kiss him goodnight?

When children are young, they don’t have the subtle language to beat around the bush.  When they are angry, they say it.  It’s normal.  It just doesn’t feel like it when it happens to you.

So…what should you do?

(1)  Look for the issue behind the words:  Your child doesn’t always have the language to explain his frustration.  When your child says “I hate you,” he might be having difficultly completing a task, attaining something he wants, or expressing a complex emotion like fear.  As parents, we must become a detective and figure out what our children are really trying to relay.

(2)  Help your child recognize anger:  This is the first real step in anger management.  If your child can recognize when he is feeling angry, he will have an easier time expressing and coping with the feeling rather than lashing out.  Ask your child, “what does your body feel like when you are angry?”  Help him to name it while it is happening, “I can tell by your face and your body that you are angry. You are having trouble turning your toy on.  That’s very frustrating!”  This will help to validate what your child is feeling and while also helping him to put a name to the emotion and the cause of the anger.

(3)  Give your child the right words: When your child is calm, talk about what happened.  Remind him of when he was feeling angry earlier in the day and what he said.  Let him know that when he says “I hate you,” it hurts your feelings.  Then ask him, “What can you say instead?” If he is unsure, give him the right words.  “When you feel this way, instead of saying ‘I hate you,’ say, ‘I feel angry and I need help, please.”  Help him to practice expressing his feelings so that when he is angry again (and he will be!), he can call on these skills.

(4)  Provide calming techniques: We all get angry.  Helping your child deal with anger in a constructive manner will be a gift that he can use for the rest of his life.  Introduce and practice some techniques when your child is open to listening (not when in the heat of battle!).  Counting to 10, singing a song, running in place, and talking to oneself, are some simple ways to calm down when angry.  One of my favorite techniques I use with young children is to “smell the roses and blow away the clouds.” This is a powerful way to teach children to take a few deep breaths.

(5)  Provide problem solving techniques: Let your child know that there are lots of ways to solve problems.  If something isn’t working, try something else!  You might say, “Could you help me put the wheel back on my truck?” or “maybe I should play with something else.”  Help your child think about solutions that are safe, fair, and likely to be successful.

(6)  Watch your own language: Regrettably, in this case, “monkey see, monkey do.”  If you use harsh language in anger or you say “I hate” towards objects around your own house (i.e. I hate doing laundry; I hate carrots; I hate when the phone rings during your nap time), your child will pick up on it and use it himself.  Unfortunately, such language might be directed at you!

Perhaps the most important thing for you to keep in mind while all this is happening is that your child doesn’t really hate you.  So take a deep breath. Sometimes parents, too, need to remember to smell the flowers and blow away the clouds.  After all, it is likely that clear skies are on the horizon.

drrobynsig170

Note: Some of this article was originally posted in Bay State Parent Magazine, 2008.

 

 

“I hate you!” Six Tips to Help Parents Deal with Their Child’s Angry Words is a post from: Dr. Robyn Silverman – Child Development Specialist, Body Image Expert, Success Coach & the Creator of the Powerful Words Character Development System

 

Parents forget child at Chuck E Cheese: 10 parenting tips for safety and preparation

chuckecheese-300x168I can’t believe I’m saying this…Parents are forgetting their kids at the children’s play place, Chuck E. Cheese’s.  While this may sounds like the makings of a Saturday Night Live skit to you, it’s actually the truth. Yesterday, Good Morning America called me to do a piece (which was squashed at the final hour) about a 5 year old girl who was left at Chuck E. Cheese’s last week.

It happened on Thursday night when the child was left at Chuck E. Cheese’s immediately following her own birthday party.  One of 10 children in a family, she was left behind by her mother—it wasn’t discovered that she was missing until the following day when her mother realized the girl wasn’t in her bed (she as getting her up for school).  Sounds completely implausible, right?

Perhaps.  But when 3 adults were attending the event with 19 children—things can get pretty hectic.  Was there a miscommunication of who was taking the child home?  Did everyone assume someone else was taking care of her?  We don’t know. The girl is now in protective custody until they determine what really happened here.

harmony-300x225But, believe it or not, this has happened before to other parents.  In fact, it just happened last Monday to another family! Three-year-old Harmony was left behind by her parents at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in Bel Air, Maryland. They only realized that they had forgotten her when they saw a report about her on the evening news. Apparently there have been other cases of this in other areas as well.

Were the children misbehaving? Were the parents trying to employ the safe haven rule at Chuck E. Cheese’s? No. Parents haven’t left their kids there because they were at their wits end, they were leaving them there…by mistake.

I know.  It’s ridiculous. How can people forget their child…let alone in a place that they attended for their children? But if you had 10 children…if it was a big crowd…if you made assumptions about who was picking up or dropping off your child…if you were exhausted or fed up or had a headache…could it happen to you or someone you know?

Whether you think so or not, this does beg some tips about parenting in a large, chaotic play place.

(1) Ensure that you have enough adults: When you have 19 children at a range of ages (some very young) and only three adults, you are out sorely outnumbered. There needs to be enough adults to ensure the safety of the children—especially when they may all be heading in different directions.

(2) Have an exit strategy: When you are dealing with multiple children, make sure every child and every adults knows where to meet, who they are going with, and how to check in with the adults.

(3) Make sure everyone knows the rules: Before entering a large play place, talk to your children about the safety rules. Even though this place is devoted to having fun, safety must come first.  Young children must be attended to at all times—they must be able to see you and you must be able to see them.

(4) Do a headcount: When you first walk in, periodically throughout the play time, and upon leaving and getting into the car, do a head count.  Not sure if everyone is there?  Roll call!

(5) Pair up buddies: Another safety precaution is assigning buddies.  When each child has another person they must keep track of and who must keep track of them, it adds another layer of security.  When you call out “buddies!” everyone finds their buddy or, alternatively, can tell you that they don’t know where their buddy is at the time.  You can pair up friends—but

(6) Appoint adults: When hosting a big group, each adult should be appointed to certain children such that the same people who came in the car on the way there should be the ones who return in that same car on the way home (unless explicit conversations and logistics beg otherwise).  When children pour into cars without thought, assumptions about the whereabouts of certain children can be made.

(7) Teach basic safety: Just like we discussed in the attempted Walmart kidnapping recently, each child should know how to protect him or herself. Who should s/he go to if s/he is lost?  What if s/he is approached by a stranger?  What if someone tries to take them away from the play area or outside through coercion or force?

(8) Teach life-saving personal information: Every child should learn basic facts about him or herself at a very early age.  For example, my daughter just turned 3 and already knows her full name and her street address.  If she needs it, she has it.  You can easily start to teach this to a young child by saying your address each time you approach your home—break it down a little at a time.  It can become a game of 20 questions—what number house do we live at? What street do we live on? What color is our home? What town do we live in?  Then teach him or her when to share the information and who s/he can share it with—and who s/he shouldn’t!

(9) If you can’t handle it, don’t do it: Think it sounds overwhelming to take a group of children to a large play area without more help?  Listen to your gut and don’t do it.  Even taking care of 2 young children in a large play area can be challenging if they go in two different directions—so know your limit and be sure you have enough back up.

(10) Recheck: At the end of the day, before leaving any venue with your family and friends, check and recheck that you have everyone!  Make no assumptions.

When Good Morning American did their preliminary interview with me, they asked if only bad parents would leave their child somewhere such as Chuck E Cheese’s. I can’t make assumptions about the character of any of the parents who have done this—but I can say that parenting begs incredible organization, preparation and attention.  In this case, these areas failed.

As parents, we will all make some mistakes. I’ve had very smart friends who thought the other parent was home and left their children to run an errand for a short time. I’ve had friends who thought the other parent was picking up their child from school and didn’t. Strange things can happen.

The Chuck E. Cheese’s situation pushes this to the limit considering that the parents didn’t know the child was missing until the next morning.  To that I say, check beds, kiss heads and make sure you KNOW where every one of your young, school-age, or pre-college age children are when you turn out the light at night.

What do YOU think? Has anything like this ever happened to you?

drrobynsig170