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By Kelly Aiglon, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Keeping track of kids at an amusement park or other crowded venue is a roller coaster ride in itself. And the bigger the crowds, the more loopy you’re bound to get.
A parent’s biggest fear? Losing a little one in the melee.

You’ll be able to breathe easy and enjoy the day if you set up family guidelines and what-if plans in advance of your trip, says Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of the safety advocacy program Safely Ever After and author of Super Duper Safety School: Safety Rules for Kids & Grownups!

The age and maturity of your children will influence the amount of freedom you give them. Fitzgerald says it’s best to put safety first. Here are a few of her tips for keeping the family together in the bustle of crowds.

Dress in bright colors: Neon green. Notice-me yellow. Fluorescent blue that screams, “I’m here!” Dress your kids to stand out from the crowd, instead of in typical character tees or sports jerseys. (One mom we know used to make matching, brightly colored tie-dye shirts for her three boys, making it easier to spot them _ and also easier for them to find each other.) And hey, Mom and Dad: Not a bad idea to wear bright colors too.

Make a game of it: “It’s hard for younger kids to stay with their parents when you’re someplace fabulous and there is so much to see. Telling them to ‘hold hands’ and ‘stay near’ is boring,” says Fitzgerald, who claims you need a “buy in” to compel kids to not wander off. For example, turn it into a game and challenge your child to only be three giant steps away from you at all times. Or, if you have more than one child, empower one with the task of doing a head count every 15 minutes. “Just keep them involved and make it fun,” says Fitzgerald. “It can be exhausting to parents, but it works.”

Keep phone numbers handy: Younger kids might not be able to remember their parents’ phone number; they should have your name and cellphone number written on a piece of paper and slipped into their pocket. If you want a more visible cue, try a custom temporary tattoo from SafetyTat that includes a child’s name and emergency contact information.

Don’t fear the backpack leash: In fact, don’t even think of it as a “leash,” says Fitzgerald in reference to the child backpacks that include a tether that a parent can hold. While these backpacks get a bad rap from those who think they’re over the top, “they are cute and fun, and actually give your child more freedom,” says Fitzgerald. “You don’t have to hold their hand so they get to roam and explore a little bit.”

Coach kids on an action plan: Discuss what to do with your child if he or she does happen to get lost in the crowd. This should include telling them to stay where they are _ and never to go back to the parking lot to wait at the car. Instead, encourage them to “freeze and yell their parents’ names,” says Fitzgerald. “If that doesn’t work, coach them to find another mom with a kid. Statistically, that’s the safest stranger and is low risk.”

Take a family photo before you go: Rally everyone together once you’re all dressed and ready to leave home. Get the kids to pose and make it fun. But the secret behind it is that, if you do lose them, you won’t get stuck trying to explain what they look like and what they’re wearing. “You’ll have it all right there on your cellphone,” says Fitzgerald.

Degree of difficulty: Easy

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: txcrew via Flickr

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