Holidays are usually a delightful time for everyone, and Christmas certainly is no exception. In fact, you could say that it is considered the happiest season of all, especially for us Filipinos. (Aren’t we relatively “famous” for having the longest “Christmas season,” with many establishments putting up their Christmas decorations as early as September?)

However, we also know by experience and through watching or reading the news that Christmastime can often be a time of “harassment” for many, for varying reasons. It can also be one of the most hectic times of all and, if you’re a parent like me, it is also one of the worst times to be out and about with your kids.

“Worst?” you may ask. Why so?

Here’s my three-word answer: “The holiday crowds!”

Yes, the oft-maddening crowds in public places like malls during the Christmas rush are often the reason why we choose to celebrate the holidays at home or in more intimate settings like with family and friends.

However, we all know that there may be times when avoiding the holiday hordes is inevitable. (And I say this from experience – we once had to rush to a nearby supermarket which had extended their shopping hours until midnight to buy groceries, and were shocked to see so many people still shopping at 11 p.m.!)

We also know that when you’re in a place teeming with people – especially with kids in tow – you need to make sure they are secure. So how does one do that, exactly? Retired Brigadier General (Brig. Gen.) Resty Aguilar, himself a devoted family man, shares some tips with us:

  1. Consider the place you’re visiting.

“Before leaving the safety of one’s home, one should consider two basic differences in the place to visit – controlled environment and less controlled environment,” he advises. “The former refers to places that are covered and enclosed, and where access to and from the place are gates or doors at which security personnel are posted to check all persons entering and leaving the establishment. The latter refers to areas where either or none of the former security systems are in place.”

Knowing the type of place you’re going to will help you prepare your kids (and yourself!) with necessary safety measures even before going there.

  1. Pair off kids with adults.

“Before leaving home for a public place, make sure there would be almost the same number of adults to the number of children, to ensure focused attention on the movement of each child,” explaines Aguilar.

If this is not possible (as in our case, because my husband and I have four kids and no nannies or household helpers), you can also consider assigning one older kid to one younger kid, and then one adult to one pair of kids. “An 11-year-old kid is already aware of the perils that lurk in populated places and could assist their parents or other adults in tending to the smaller kids,” he emphasizes. “He or she must, however, be reminded of that responsibility from time to time.”

This “pairing off system” would need to be adjusted, of course, depending on the number of adults and kids going out. The key is to talk to the kids about basic safety reminders before you leave the house.

  1. Always make identification easy.

Aguilar recommends that kids ages 3 to 11 always have some sort of identification in their pockets when you go out. “[Also] always remember the color and description of the child and their clothing,” he adds. “Some parents dress their kids similarly (e.g. same color of t-shirts) to easily identify them even amidst large crowds of people.”

  1. Teach kids about strangers.

Children should, time and again, be told not to talk to or avoid strangers but must be taught about persons in authority like policemen, security guards, and other mall emergency assistance crew, who are the ‘good guys,’” he says.

  1. If it’s not essential, think twice about going.

This tip may not sit well with those who like going places during the holidays, but it is still something worth considering: “As much as practicable, avoid very crowded places and be conscious of the movements and actuations of people all around,” Aguilar warns. “Do not go to places for the first time already in the company of children without knowing the general situation in the area or level of security provided by the establishment or the barangay in the case of public places.”

  1. Mind your children at all times.

While this is an “obvious” safety precaution, it can, sadly, be neglected, especially during the holiday madness. “The most common way of protecting children while in public is for them to be huddled together while the assigned adults consciously tend to them,” our security expert shares.

“When walking together, hold the hands of the kids and never let go. Distractions like talking to salesladies, haggling for prices, chatting with friends, manipulating gadgets, the beautiful sights or items for sale, etc., are common reasons why the focus on children is momentarily lost in large crowds. This is further complicated when the child’s attention may be drawn to a toy or a favorite food or clothing.”

We all know that anything can happen to our kids in a matter of minutes, especially when our attention is divided, so let’s take extra caution in public places.

  1. Keep calm and find help when needed.

Now, what if despite all our precautionary measures, the unimaginable does happen to our kids? “When facing an adverse situation, like one or more of the kids getting lost inside the mall, be aware of the presence of security equipment and guards all over the place and immediately alert them of the incident,” advises Aguilar.

According to him, the first things to do is to be calm and to provide necessary information to guide the mall staff in assisting you. Guards have hand-held radios that can alert all other security personnel in the area to launch an immediate search. Likewise, malls are equipped with CCTV cameras for their security control center to assist in the search.

Aguilar further states that public places “such as markets, tiangges, and other similar establishments may not be necessarily as staffed as the big malls but the local authorities headed by the barangay officials, tanods, and the police can assist in similar situations”.

Keeping the kids safe is certainly not limited to the holidays so we hope you’ll keep these tips in mind even beyond the Christmas season. And remember, let’s teach our kids not just to stay safe but to pray for safety at all time, too!

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