As a parent, it could be one of your worst nightmares. It’s a day like any other. You’re waiting in line with your carpool number to pick your kid up from school. All around, smiling kids are jumping into minivans and SUVs. When it’s your turn, your child just isn’t there.
It’s not something you necessarily hear about every day — especially not in your own community. However, in the United States, hundreds of thousands of kids are abducted every year. It happens in parks, grocery stores, and malls. Although it seems less likely, kidnappings can even happen in the school pickup line.
The carpool line is probably something you navigate every weekday. So what can do you to make it as safe as possible for your kid? Read through these suggestions below. While some help you protect your child, others help you teach your child how to protect themselves.
1. Grant the Cell Phone Request
There’s a good chance your child already wants a cell phone. Instead of resisting, consider getting them one. If you think of it as an added safety net, you can feel good about the purchase. With a safe phone for kids, your child can always contact you.
A cell phone makes it easy for you to text your kid your location. Plus, they can always call you if they need to meet you someplace else. Some phones even offer GPS trackers that pinpoint your child’s location in real time. You can see where your child is without having to make a phone call.
2. Provide a List of Safe Adults
You might be the person chiefly responsible for picking your child up from school. There will be times, though, when you can’t get there. It could be a doctor’s appointment, a work meeting, or you may just be sick. In those cases, you’ll need to rely on other adults, and your child needs to know who they are.
This is where a “Safe Adult List” would be a good idea. It’s a list of trusted people who have your permission to pick your child up from school. It could be your neighbor, your babysitter, or your mother-in-law. Let your kid know it’s OK to go with these adults. They should never leave school with anyone else, however, unless you’ve directly told them to.
3. Select a Code Word
If your child may have trouble remembering the list of safe adults or their faces, a code word could be easier. It’s a word chosen by you and your child to show someone can be trusted. Pick a unique word or phrase that has nothing to do with your child or family. The harder it is to guess, the better.
From “pepperoni pizza” to “sunflowers,” your code word could be anything, as long as your child can recognize it as safe. Make sure your child knows this word and understands any new person must be able to provide it. Your child can’t leave with anyone who doesn’t know the code. If you can’t contact your child to let them know who is picking them up, a code word is an additional precaution.
4. Beware of Requests for Help
Carpooling can be a crowded and crazy time. Kids and adults are everywhere. Sometimes it can be tough to know if the adults hanging around are actually parents. In fact, it’s not unheard of for adults to approach kids waiting on the sidewalk and strike up a conversation. If this happens to your child, tell them to be suspicious.
You’ve probably heard similar stories. An adult approaches a child and asks for help finding a lost pet. If it’s school pickup, the request may be for help locating another child. Even if your kid is a helper by nature, tell them to firmly decline. It’s perfectly all right to say no and take several steps away.
5. Toss Out the Monogrammed Items
Having a lunch box, backpack, or sweater monogrammed with your child’s name is cute. If they’re younger, it may also help them keep up with their things during the day. You may not realize it, but they can also be dangerous. Consider replacing them.
As pretty as these items are, they broadcast your child’s name to strangers. A child may be more tempted to trust an adult who calls them by name, making them vulnerable. It doesn’t always matter if they’ve never met. If you must put your child’s name on their things, write it on the inside labels instead.
6. Follow the School’s Carpool Protocols
The days of letting kids run from the classroom at the end of the day are primarily gone. More and more schools are implementing systems to ensure children go home in the right cars. There’s a chance these procedures might feel like overkill. Learn what they are and follow them anyway.
Some schools assign kids’ numbers and give parents car tags with the same digits. Others dismiss kids by grade level into separate parking lots. Take the time to learn the process your child’s school has in place. It will make the pickup process easier, faster, and safer.
Going through the daily school pickup can be nerve-wracking enough. Having to worry about your child’s safety can make it even more stressful. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your child. If you follow these steps, you can also breathe easier that you’ve taught them how to stay safe too.
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