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I recently took my kids on a fun-filled, action-packed spring break to a popular U.S. travel destination.

Safe Family Vacations

Our 7-hour car ride was timed, the vehicle checked and the route was planned and programmed in the GPS (both the car and the phone!). I was certain I was following all the rules to ensure this would be another one of many safe family spring break vacations.  Snacks were healthy and filling; pit stops were at highway rest areas and of course, the kids knew to never talk to or go with strangers.

There was a system, method and plan for everything.
Well, just about everything…

By day three, we decided to throw caution to the wind and found an attraction not on the well-planned itinerary; repacking the car, we decided to venture another 75 miles to attend a large outdoor music festival.

The Sound of Music
Music in the air, blankets spread out, snacks nearby in our precisely-packed mini coolers. The kids, unusually behaved while soaking up the sounds of the moment, and me, flat on my back stargazing while humming to the lingering melody…and, that is when it dawned on me that we were four people of about 100,000 in attendance.

Suddenly, the mom in me began to think…

Too much.
In all the planning and preparing for a safe family spring break, I neglected to plan for the occasional unsought reality.

My mind flashed to the Boston Marathon.

To the Colorado movie theater.

To the Mall of America…

In today’s world, no longer can we rely on simply a state of assured safe family vacation as we did with our parents. It was then I had to step back and have a quick talk with our 8 and 15 year old kids  “…if anything starts to happen, you know, if you hear gunfire, an explosion, or you see big fights and pushing…. we need to remember how to act and react so WE remain safe….”

Never did I imagine I would need to have these conversations with my kids. But then again, never did I imagine a school drill beyond fire and tornado safety and instead learn to prepare for bombs and active shooters.

This is today’s world.

What you can do.

PBS.org wrote an excellent piece about talking to your kids about today’s news of threats and violence. Here are 6 steps you can create to begin a safe family spring break.

  • Start by finding out what your child knows. When a news topic comes up, ask an open-ended question to find out what she knows like “What have you heard about it?” This encourages your child to let you know what she is thinking.
  • Ask a follow up question. Depending on your child’s comments, ask another question to get him thinking, such as “Why do you think that happened?” or “What do you think people should do to help?”
  • Explain simply. Give children the information they need to know in a way that makes sense to them. At times, a few sentences are enough. “A good analogy is how you might talk about sex,” adds Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed. D. “You obviously wouldn’t explain everything to a 5-year-old. Talking about violence and safety is similar.”
  • Listen and acknowledge. If a child talks about a news event (like a local robbery or kidnapping) and is worried, recognize her feeling and comfort her. You might say “I can see you’re worried, but you are safe here. Remember how we always lock our doors.” This acknowledges your child’s feelings, helps her feel secure, and encourages her to tell you more.
  • Offer reassurance. When a child is exposed to disturbing news, she may worry about her safety. To help her calm down, offer specific examples that relate to her environment like, “That hurricane happened far away but we’ve never had a hurricane where we live.” Actions speak louder than words — so show your child how you lock the door if she gets scared by a news report about robbers, point out the gutters and storm drains if a hurricane story causes fear, and explain what the security guards do at the airport after a story about terrorists.
  • Tailor your answer to your child’s age. The amount of information children need changes age by age. “A kindergartner may feel reassured simply knowing a hurricane is thousands of miles away. An older child may want to know how hurricanes could affect the place where he lives and may want to know what is being done to help those in need. Both ages will be reassured by doing something to help,” notes Jane Katch, M.S.T., author ofThey Don’t Like Me: Lessons on Bullying and Teasing from a Preschool Classroom.

Our family spring break will not only include juice boxes and doodle pads, but also a pre-trip conversation to remind–and reassure our children that just like safety for every other area of their lives, we will have a safety plan for this as well.

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