Child Safety and Travel: Dealing With Figures of Authority


There are things you should definitely teach your children ahead of time. One of those things is what to do if they become separated from you!! This is a little bit more tricky if you are traveling abroad because I generally trust American police officers (I worked as a clerical assistant in a Police Department in California for many years). In my experience over the last two years I would also say that I trust Greek police officers. They are usually helpful and used to dealing with tourists. I do not always trust the police in other countries because they can be corrupt and expect bribes.

So here are the rules that I tell my own children:

“If we become separated in the U.S. look for a police man or woman.

If we become separated outside of the US, look for another mother that has children and ask her for help. Tell her you are lost and need to find your mommy and daddy.

(Make sure you teach your children how to say the word, “Help” in the language of the place you are traveling in… if they only learn one word, “help” is much more important than “hello.”)

If you cannot find another mommy with children, look for a woman in a uniform.

If you don’t find another mommy or a woman in a uniform, look for a man in a uniform.”

Just a quick recap, people to look for in order:

-Police man or woman.

-Mother with children.

-Woman in uniform.

-Man in uniform.

The uniform is a key thing to teach children about because they cannot always identify a specific uniform, and police uniforms change depending on what county, state, province, or country you are in. For police uniforms, they key is the shiny, metal badge. You can show your child online what different police badges look like. Security guards also tend to have them (Travis did when he was a security officer for the city of Los Angeles), but that is ok because security guards tend to be helpful, and usually have to pass a general background check. If you are in a place like an amusement park or a zoo, someone that works there will be in uniform, and they will also be able to help your child locate you. Point out that uniforms include name badges. That is something that most children will remember and be able to identify.

Make sure that if you ever become separated from your child that you alert someone that works in the area or a police officer immediately. Make sure that someone with a radio or other communication is found and told as soon as possible. Now you can usually find someone with a cell phone that will be able to phone other guards in the area and/or their supervisor.

Sometimes figures of authority can cause problems depending on where you are traveling. Maybe you are struggling to explain yourself at a border crossing and the guard starts yelling at you. This will frighten your children (yes, unfortunately this happens). There are also times when your children will be uncomfortable simply from an authority figure doing their job. For example the last time we went through airport security in Austria they pulled me into a booth to check my bra. It is their policy for anyone wearing an underwire. My kids were starting to freak out, but I reminded them of a conversation we have every so often, so they are prepared for situations like this.

Sit your children down and explain this to them:

“Sometimes when we are traveling there will be people in uniform that ask mommy and daddy to do different things. Sometimes they might seem angry, but they are probably just frustrated because they are tired after a long day at work. It is important to remember that they are only doing their job, and trying to keep everyone safe. That is why we have to follow the rules. Just like you have to follow mommy and daddy’s rules because they keep you safe, mommy and daddy also have to follow rules that will keep us all safe. These people are there to make sure mommies and daddies also follow the rules. They are in a place of authority for a reason and just like mommy and daddy, you need to show them respect.”

You should follow up this conversation with question time from your little ones. They might not understand completely, but when something uncomfortable happens while you are out traveling, remind them of this conversation and it will help them to remember that this was something that you talked about as a family.

These are my general rules of thumb when it comes to my children dealing with figures of authority. Of course, teaching your children to respect figures of authority is completely up to you, but Travis and I feel that is something that we want to teach our family. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. Remember, be prepared, not paranoid.

Happy travels!!


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