Ah, summertime. There really isn’t a better time in Chicago. We have fairs, festivals, parades and fireworks. Kids run and play, adults relax. While it’s great to have fun and let our kids run free, always keep the possible dangers in the back of your mind.
But if you’re prepared ahead of time, you can truly relax knowing that in an emergency you know just what to do.
Head to cyberspace. It helps to check out the Web site of the place you will be visiting. Going to Six Flags Great America? Before leaving home, visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica and click on Park Info. You can find information under Guest Services, Park Policies and Tips for Family Fun. Plan your day from there and make sure everyone in the family knows the plan. Most festivals around Chicago have their own Web sites. Check them first for any information you might need to know ahead of time.
Know the safety zones. If your family is attending a huge festival, such as the Taste of Chicago, which runs June 29-July 8 and can attract more than three million people, then make it your first priority to know the location of the Lost Children’s Tent. If your kids get separated from you, then this is the first place to look. Not only is the tent manned by the Chicago Police Department, but they keep the kids comfortable and happy while working to reunite families.
Who can help? Don’t assume your kids know where to go or whom to talk to if they are separated from you. Talk to them before you leave home. Explain that if they are lost, then the first thing they should do is find an employee in uniform or a policeman. If they don’t see one, then the next person they should ask for help is another mom with kids. Reiterate the importance of not talking to random strangers, even if they are lost. Chances are, if you are attending a festival with your family, then another mom with kids will be there, too, and she’ll be willing to help your child find an employee, who can reunite your family.
Bring a safety bag. Fill a small bag with summer safety essentials such as sunscreen, bottled water, bandages and bug spray. Don’t forget any medications, like your child’s EpiPen. You may not be near a drugstore if a serious allergic reaction occurs. With the overabundance of food and drink, bees and wasps attend festivals in droves, too. Consider baby wipes essential even if you don’t have babies.
Keep it small. It’s best to have one adult hand for each child you are bringing along to help reduce the chance of someone getting separated. For older kids, use the buddy system.
Dress alike. If you are worried about being separated in a big crowd, then try to dress your children and yourselves in similar clothes. It will make it easier to identify them in a crowd or to describe to searchers what your kids are wearing. Even better, take a picture of each child on your digital camera before leaving home so there is an exact record of their appearance that day.
Utilize safety products. Some people call them leashes for kids, but those cords that wrap around the wrist like a bracelet and harness your kids to you are a great idea in big crowds. To avoid the inevitable comparisons to leashes, you can find backpacks with extended handles. For older kids, bring along a couple of walkie-talkies. You can stay in constant contact without eating up cell phone minutes.
Stay on the sidewalk. We all know how tempting it is for children to run out into the street to grab candy thrown during a parade, but it is also very dangerous. Some towns have simply outlawed the practice, but others have not. In my hometown, candy is still thrown, but in my family we have a simple rule: Kids stay on the curb while the adults collect any candy that didn’t make it far enough. Hold the hand of small children at all times because their impulses are stronger than their self-restraint.
Don’t use sparklers. Would you let your child play with a lighter? Then don’t let him near sparklers.
"The temperature of a sparkler can equal that of a torch," says Lt. Pete Ahlman of the Arlington Heights Fire Department. "Parents assume sparklers are safe because they are sold in stores, but sparklers are never safe for children."
Good alternatives to light up the night are glow sticks. They last longer and can be twisted into fun shapes.
Prepare for a quick exit. Everyone loves fireworks, but occasionally something can go wrong. Two years ago, my family was seated two blankets away from another family whose belongings were hit by a partially misfired firework. Luckily, they were able to stamp out the flames, but it was frightening for everyone. I was ready to run to safety with my daughter but realized we were in the middle of hundreds of people and in an emergency, escape would have been impossible.
"There’s no reason to sit close to where the fireworks are launched," Ahlman says. "Consider an easy escape route in case of an emergency."
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook.