The warm weather has barely set in when most kids start to beg for a trip to an amusement park. But, oh, the crowds, the heat, the scary headlines about accidents (an 11-year old recently died after falling off a New Jersey Ferris wheel) that seem to occur every season. How to have fun and keep 'em safe (even if you'd rather not be there):
- Do your homework. Saferparks.org offers general tips and maintains a nationwide database of safety complaints. “It's sort of like product-recall information, but for amusement parks,” says Lindsay Hansen, the recreational safety program manager for Safe Kids Worldwide.
- Be wary of traveling carnivals. Rides that are continually set up and taken down have a greater opportunity to malfunction, says Hansen. So use common sense: Avoid rides that don't look well maintained, make creaky or unusual sounds, don't seem to have adequate safety straps/belts, or are operated by workers who don't appear to be paying much attention.
- Have a plan. Impress on your kids that they should keep you in sight at all times. But just in case, make a plan about what to do if they lose you. Hansen suggests making sure kids know your cell number, then instructing them to ask a uniformed park attendant or police officer to call you. Or you can choose a place to meet—such as by the fountain or a specific ride—if you get separated. It's not a bad idea to tuck recent photos of your kids in your wallet, just in case park officials need help spotting your wandering kid.
- Consider clothing. If your child has long hair, pull it back in an elastic hair band while at a park. Hansen suggests you also leave hoodie jackets and other clothing with strings at home. In rare cases, hair or strings can get caught on equipment.
- Keep your cool. Slather your child in sunscreen, and reapply it every few hours. Be sure everyone is drinking plenty of water, too. If the park has locker/storage facilities, save money by bringing your own bottles and stowing them for later.
A version of this post was originally published in the June 2011 issue of Parenting.