Am I the only mom who avoids crazy birthday parties or large, crowded events at all costs? When I see one of those brightly colored envelopes come home in my daughter’s backpack I just know it’s a birthday invitation waiting for me. I’m constantly looking for excuses not to go pumpkin picking in the fall or attend Christmas shows at large venues and arenas. Something about thousands of people gathered in one space makes me extremely nervous. I get anxiety, which leads me to act paranoid, especially if my children are present.
Just recently a girlfriend of mine invited my daughter to see Disney on Ice. Can an event get any more innocent than that? But all I could think about were the negatives - what if they can’t find their seats? What if my daughter has to go to the bathroom? People are always so pushy down the stairs and up the escalators. What if she gets distracted by a three-foot long lit up toy that whistles and rotates?
In an effort to push past my anxiety and save my daughters from missed opportunities, I did a little research and came up with a safety checklist for attending crowded events with kids. If you’re anything like me and crowds make you nervous, I found these suggestions to be extremely helpful!
Talk About it Beforehand
I am all about communication when it comes to my kids. We have a fire evacuation plan in place for our home and we discuss stranger danger, so it only seemed fitting to sit down and have a conversation about event safety.
I like to be honest with my children, also. I feel this prepares them for what’s coming next. I would suggest talking to your child about how big the venue or area is that you’ll be visiting. You can discuss how many people will be there and how loud it might be. If your children are old enough, discuss an action plan in the event that you become separated.
Make it a Game
Before entering the event, play a little game. Have your child study your clothes and then, with their eyes closed, have them tell you what you’re wearing. The color of your shirt, pants, and shoes. Have your child describe your hair, if you wear glasses, or certain jewelry you might have on. This is a great way to prepare your child without scaring them. Snapping a picture of or with your child prior to attending an event is a great resource if something happens and the authorities ask for a recent photograph. Have your child say "cheese" without telling them the reason for the photo. I know I do this anyway, without being prompted!
Another great way to make yourself and your child identifiable is by wearing brightly colored or patterned clothing. I’ve seen large groups and families at amusement parks and concerts wearing the same color shirt, adorned with their family name and the year. This makes the perfect visual for your child in case they become separated from the group, and can be saved as a family souvenir!
Talk About Entering the Event
I would also suggest preparing your child for the metal detectors and bag searches that most large venues require. My youngest daughter became upset when she had to walk through a metal detector at the airport. Though it was harmless, the process scared her. To prevent this from happening again, I explained what exactly a metal detector is and we practiced walking through her bedroom doorway, as if it were the metal detector. This made it less scary for her the next time.
You might also want to prepare your child for the volume that these large events can produce. Whether it’s a sporting event, show, or musical performance, the volume of noise is often high. Combine the show’s acoustics with thousands of screaming and excited children and anybody could easily become overstimulated. If your child is very young or sensitive to outside stimuli, bring along a pair of headphones or ear protection. This might be the difference between a fun event and a meltdown.
Discuss Safe Places and People
When you arrive at your event or venue, meet as a family and choose a specific “home base”. This will be a safe place where you and your child can meet in the event that you’re separated.
Another great tip is to point out the security guards, police, staff, and any other official personnel to your child. Let them familiarize themselves with their dress and location. It’s unfortunate, but you can’t simply tell your child to “find an adult” for help. Not all adults will be helpful or act with the right intentions. So be sure to designate safe adults.
Be Aware and Stay Together
In order to prevent getting separated, place one adult in the front of the group and one in the back. Hold hands and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t allow your children to play on your phone or tablet while walking. They should be looking straight ahead, at the person leading the group. Hold your child’s hand tightly as you navigate through the crowds. Walk slowly. There’s no need to rush. Rushing can result in yourself and your child getting anxious or nervous unnecessarily.
Don’t Avoid Events
This last piece of advice is mostly for myself. Avoiding events or crowds all together is not the answer. I want my daughters to visit Disney World one day and join their friends at sporting events, shows, and plays. Pumpkin picking should be a family tradition, not a cause for worry and concern.
I found that being informed and prepared for events that might normally be overwhelming, has helped me to combat my fears and enjoy myself. My motivation to do so was my daughters. And together, our family has created a strategy that works for us!