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Pregnancy By Proxy: The Out Of Body Experience of Open Adoption

In honor of our daughter’s 4th birthday, I am republishing some of my adoption articles. This is the third article in the series. Happy Birthday to our sweet baby girl.

wey_77b_mommykiss-225x300Believe me.  This was not what I had envisioned when I thought about pregnancy for myself.  I was more of a traditional gal—thinking that the whole baby- boarding process would actually be taking place in my own body. You know—baby bump, bloated feet, morning sickness–the whole enchilada. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy being an out-of-body experience.

But when we decided on adoption, and ultimately, open adoption, that’s what it became. I can say now that I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But at the start, I thought I might just throw up my lunch.

Look; the 1st trimester is never a sure thing. It’s unpredictable, tenuous, and scary.  I should know; I had lost 4 pregnancies during those 1st 12 weeks.  And yet, here I was willingly and excitedly matched with a birth mother whose baby—no, fetus—was only the size of a pin head and looked more like a baby seahorse than anything human.

What was I doing to myself?  How would I survive the next 35 weeks just watching and hearing updates from the sidelines? The last time I checked, pregnancy was notsupposed to be a spectator sport. I often wondered how I would get through it all considering I was no longer in charge.

I tried to remain “stress-free.”  I did yoga. Took hot showers.  Went to bed early.  But my mind stayed up like a hyped-up teenager on a case of RedBull. Is she eating right? Drinking? Smoking? Resting? I hope nobody is stressing her out at work.  I’ll kill ‘em.

OK. So maybe “stress-free” wasn’t going to happen. I’d settle for not going nuts.

The one saving grace was that our birth parents, C and M (not providing full names because I want to be sensitive to their privacy), were totally relaxed and completely willing to share the process with us.  In fact, C would give me the play by play.  And what could have been unpleasant and anxiety-provoking, became, well, fun!

“You’re baby has elbows!” she wrote to me in an email. I loved that she said “your baby” – It reassured me that this was actually happening. This baby would become my child.

And I loved that she kept track of what was happening inside her body.  I savored every nugget of information—no matter how small—because it somehow connected me to this life that was soon to intertwine with mine.  C even sent me a phone video showing a remote control dancing along her belly just so I could experience what it was like to see my baby kick. She didn’t have to do it. But she did.

C invited me to become her partner in this process.  We came to care about each other.  We checked in with one another.  How was she feeling?  How was I? What were our thoughts, concerns, hopes and dreams for this child? What questions did we have for the doctor? Amazingly, and with great sensitivity, she allowed the pregnancy to become “ours” rather than just “hers.”

Of course that meant that we got all the stressful news as well.  Yippee.  There was the bleeding episode in the 10th week when we all put our feet up in sympathy and prayed for a summertime miracle. And then there was “the flu that stole Christmas” when M called us from the hospital to tell us that C had thrown up 17 times and she was now on an IV drip. Happy Holidays.

But the good always outweighed the scary.  And while my body wasn’t growing and changing, C allowed us to experience the pregnancy through her.  She invited us into her private world.

So we were there—flanked at C’s head and feet— when Tallie made her first on-screen 3D cameo.  It was week 18 and the four of us found out that we were having a little girl.  I couldn’t help it.  I kissed C right on the head. And when we couldn’t be there, since we were in Massachusetts and they were in Oklahoma, C played a CD of our voices to her belly every night and morning. “She loves when you sing to her,” she would write.  “You’re going to be the best Mom.” My heart was full. She had no idea how much that meant to me.

She even let me feed her. Does that sound strange? I don’t mean that I carted C around on a satin chaise and fed her grapes.  No.  She allowed me to send her big vats of food.  Being raised by a Jewish woman, I guess you can say I am programmed to make feasts.  It’s in our blood.  So C indulged me when I sent containers of turkey chili, roast turkey dinners and of course, chicken soup, to her home.

Being a girl who didn’t cook and who lost her mother at the tender age of 13, C didn’t know much about home-cooked meals.  So she gobbled up what I sent her, replete with yummy noises to boot, and thanked me profusely.  She told me how grateful she was. But she was the true hero.  By allowing me to nourish her she was also allowing me to nourish my future child as well. Not everyone would get that. But she did.

And when it came time to discuss the birth plan, it was decided unanimously that we would all be in the room.  She insisted on it.  And Jason was to cut the cord.  “He’s the Daddy, after all,” she said. “Besides, M would faint like a little girl if he had to do it.”

So on the day of our daughter’s birth, we all stood united in the delivery room.  And at 10:19am, we all cheered and teared up when Tallie took her first breath.

I was the first to hold this beautiful baby girl—a momentous occasion indeed.  But perhaps one of the most memorable moments came after all the doctors were gone. It was the moment that we got to introduce our baby girl to her birth mother—the one who had cared for her over the past 9 months—the one who had loved her enough to place her in our arms—and the one who made this out-of-body pregnancy one of the most precious experiences of our lives. One might think this moment would be scary. It wasn’t.  It was…beautiful. It was the moment that we became a family.  All 5 of us.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a Child & Teen Development Specialist, Professional Speaker and parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Good Morning America & Anderson Live.  Her adoption series won a silver award from Parenting Publications of America. She is so grateful to have been able to build her family through the amazing process of open adoption.

The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

robyn_tallie-292x300As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain thingsyou’ll have to do and certain things you’ll never do in order to get pregnant. Well, at least I did. I found myself making concessions and deals–“I’ll take the pills but I won’t do the injections” – “I’ll do the injections but I won’t do IVF.” But years get long and time gets short and well, desperation sets in. “I’ll never do injections” turns into “just make it quick” as you hand your husband a 2-inch needle, turn around and close your eyes. You’ll do anything. You don’t know if it’ll work but you’re willing to try. You have to have a baby. NOW.

Each time you think “could this be it?” And sometimes it works. And it’s a miracle. It’s exactly as it was intended to be. But other times, as in our case, it wasn’t that simple. The drugs did their job but my body played hooky. Each of my four pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

As a woman, this was unacceptable. I had the will. I had the heart. I had the parts! After years of trying not to get pregnant, this was supposed to be MY time. I was ready…and waiting.

Of course they told me that it wasn’t my fault— but you can’t help blaming yourself. I went over every place I had been, every food I ate, and everything I did over the previous weeks. Was it the sushi I ate before I knew? The 5 pound bag of potatoes I lifted at the market? The plane ride I took to my cousin’s wedding? Your head tells you “no” but your heart demands an explanation.

And with the blame game came the ridiculous claims and promises—”Next time, I’ll keep my feet up in the air. I’ll stay on my back. I’ll barely move until it’s time to push.”

I felt so alone. Pregnant women were everywhere. And babies. In the park. In the library. At the market. What angered me the most was seeing parents yell at their children—or worse yet, ignore them. I wanted to throttle them and say, “Don’t you see what you have here! You should be grateful every single day!” But I kept my mouth shut and merely grumbled under my breath. I promised myself that when I did have a child, I would cherish every moment. I would make myself remember that there are women out there willing to trade places–even on the most challenging days—just to have a turn to be called “mommy.”

I often found myself in tears but nevertheless, I carried on. I tried new things. I learned more about my body than I ever wanted to know. Temperature. Timing. Patterns.

Roadblocks came up frequently. In our case, after the doctors put me out and retrieved a total of 38 eggs during two different IVF procedures, they explained to me that something was wrong with my eggs. My husband and I tried to keep things light. We had countless jokes. Eggs Behaving Badly! Eggs Gone Wild! How would you like your eggs? Scrambled!

So we turned to the women whose eggs were pristine and in demand. Egg donors. Never heard of it? It’s very hush hush. Most people don’t talk about it. I actually felt a little naughty while interviewing them since the whole thing felt so “underground.”

Truthfully, it was kind of like online dating. What do you look like? What are your hobbies? Could I implant some of your DNA in my body so I can have a baby?

I thought, could this be our solution? Could this be the ticket to Babyville? But we kept getting tripped up. This one had already donated up to her limit. That one couldn’t get off work. This other one didn’t respond to the drugs. But we had to try again. We had to get in sync. We had to take more drugs. We needed another week, another month, another round.

Every couple has their breaking point- -when they say, “enough is enough” and they put down their needles. They throw away their pills and they take a much needed, life-altering, deep breath.

Our breath of fresh air came on April 12, 2008. It was the day our final donor told us she wasn’t going to be able to make it. It was the day we decided to stop researching new ways to get pregnant and start looking for ways to have a family. It was the day we decided to adopt.

I didn’t know exactly how it was all going to play out but I did know one thing that day. We were going to have a family. Finally, I knew for sure. And it was one of the best days of my life.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speakerand parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Anderson Live, Good Morning America and various print media.  She won a Silver Award for this Adoption Series from Parenting Publications of America. Dr. Robyn is proud to have built her family through the amazing process of Open Adoption. The first of this adoption series is posted here.

Walking Your Talk: Showing Your Values Even When Your Kids Aren’t Looking

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“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.” ~Author Unknown

As parents and teachers we often zone out when we get a moment alone.  It’s normal– I do it too.  I am far from perfect, lose my temper sometimes, say the wrong thing, and sometimes hover outside of myself with folded arms and ask myself, “is that REALLY the best you can do?”  That ever happen to you?  I’m working on it– just like everyone else.

The other day I was sitting in a café working during lunch time.  A few tables away, a black woman in her 40s, sat with 7 elderly men and woman which she was clearly taking on a much anticipated outing.  She was taking care of them.  She wiped their mouths, wheeled them in their wheelchairs, asked them questions about their lives and facilitated conversation between the group.

It struck me.  We often talk about those in care-taking positions (that may not appeal to a wide audience) as being underpaid and under-appreciated.  That always bothered me.  Teachers, nurses, aides—they work very hard and do such an important job.  I know we’ve all said this before– but it’s still true as true can be.

I watched her now and again show such patience, concern and, perhaps most importantly, curiosity to these people in her care.  And I was moved to do something.  Does that sound ridiculous?  That’s OK with me.

Someone once urged me, “imagine your child by your side, holding your hand andlooking up at you even when s/he is not with you.  What lessons would you want to teach through your actions?”  That visualization really stuck with me and I call upon it often.  It’s a good one, don’t you think?

I stood up and went to the cashier at the café and asked her if I could buy a gift card.  The caretaker’s name was on a “reserved” marker on the table—“Michelene”– so I simply copied it down and signed it “From an admirer.  You are doing great work and we appreciate it!”

When she was getting everyone ready to meet their van outside, I walked over to her and said; “This is for you.  Thank you.”  I don’t think she had a clue what it was or why I was giving it to her—I had sealed it so she wasn’t put in any awkward position as she received it.  Then I sat down and resumed working.

While a $20 gift card is not much—certainly not life-changing—I figured that if my daughter or son were standing their with me, they would have learned something about my values.  When we appreciate someone, we show it.  When someone deserves some praise, we give it.  When people give of themselves, we acknowledge that we’ve noticed.   As parents and teachers, we need to live our values whether the children in our lives are watching us or not. In my opinion, and I would imagine you’d agree, that’s living an authentic life.

No fanfare needed, no thank you was necessary– she was being the everyday hero, not me.  We make these gestures not because we feel sorry for someone or want someone to tell us how “good” we are, but rather, because that person deserves it and the gesture is part of who we are and who we hope our children become.

Have you ever done something like that on a whim? I imagine you have.  It’s not about money– it can be giving time, energy, attention, praise, love, donations or thanks in any form. We’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

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.

 

Our Thoughts Are With You: Victims of Hurricane Sandy

As I live in NJ, we have seen and heard much of the devastation due to the most recent storm.  Hurricane Sandy lived up to the predictions.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you, our neighbors, and all those who suffered loss due to flood, falling trees and power outages.

hurricane-sandy-300x200My hope is that we all open our hearts and our homes to those who are still in need.  Do what you can even if it’s small– donate, lend out generators or extension cords, invite people over for dinner and to stay the night.  That’s been our plan of action as our power has been restored (thankfully) and we only had 2 fallen trees and some fence damage.  We consider ourselves very lucky– and hope for the safety and quick recovery of those still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

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.

 

 

 

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

Dr. Robyn Silverman introduces the Powerful Word Accountability

The powerful word of the month is accountability! Accountability is all about keeping our promises and commitments while also taking care of our mistakes.  It’s important to allow our children and teens to be accountable for themselves (while still being age appropriate) so that they learn (1) Making mistakes is not the end of the world; (2) When you make a “mess,” clean it up; (3) Ask for help when you need it; (4) healthy promises and commitments are something that should be kept; (5) Accountability is a crucial part of goal setting and goal getting as well as a vital part of being a good friend, student, employee, and family member.

While it may be tempting to jump in and “do it for them” when we see a child/teen challenged by a mistake s/he made (i.e. forgot his homework, lost a book) or a promise he no longer wants to keep (i.e. wants to quit a sport, doesn’t want to go to the birthday party she said she would attend), learning accountability at a young age is a great life lesson.

Children may need support or assistance at times but at others, we need to step back and allow them to take the lead.  Encourage them to tell the librarian that they lost a book and want to pay for it with their allowance.  Teach your children that once they make a commitment to a friend, it’s important that they keep that promise.  Show them that when they make a mistake, they need to admit it, apologize for it and help make it right. If they can learn this when stakes are low during childhood, they will be able to apply these life lessons to their life when stakes are higher during adulthood.

Enjoy this month’s Powerful Word! How are YOU teaching accountability in your home?

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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