A Grandparent’s Guide to Traveling Safely with the Grandkids
8 tips for keeping grandchildren safe on a road trip
Spring break is right on the horizon, and summer is not too far off (even though right now it seems like light years away!). If you’re planning a road trip with your grandchildren sans their mom and dad, take a few minutes to review some important safety pointers so that everyone can have a safe and happy trip.
- Know the ABCs of car seat installation. The time to realize that you don’t know how to install a car seat, or properly buckle a child up in one, is not when you’re standing in your driveway with your grandchild about to leave for vacation. In advance of the trip, get a demo on proper car seat usage from the parents. A good way to know if the harness is adjusted properly: “There should be no more than two finger breadths between the harness straps and the child’s chest, and the shoulder straps that come out of the back of the seat should rest directly on the child's shoulders,” says Cheryl Wu, MD, a pediatrician in New York City. Tip: Many police and fire stations offer car seat clinics/inspections. Call your local non-emergency number to find out more. Or, seek help from a certified child passenger safety technician. To find one near you, visit SafeKids, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children.
- Don’t overlook the importance of booster seats. A child might look old enough to ride in a car without a safety seat — which is why 90 percent of parents stop using these seats too soon. But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a booster seat until a child reaches between 80 and 100 pounds and stands 4’ 9” tall. One way to quickly tell if your grandchild needs a “boost” is to see where the seatbelt rests on her chest. “If the seatbelt cuts across the child’s neck, this means the child is sitting too low/ is too short, and still needs to use a booster” says Wu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when compared with using a seat belt alone, booster seat use reduced the risk for serious injury by 45 percent among kids ages four to eight years.
- Be prepared for roadside rest stops. Kids normally begin to recognize gender differences around the age of four. At around ages 4 to 6, grandparents might start encountering resistance from kids when it comes to using opposite sex bathrooms. “A lot of people ask at what age a child can be left alone and, unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer,” says Wu. “There is a wide variation of maturity level between children.” Ask the parents what they do, advises Wu. You can also take advantage of family restrooms, which can be used by kids and caregivers of any sex.“This is also a great time to talk about stranger danger,” says Sally Black, a pediatric nurse, grandmother and founder of VacationKids. “Explain to your grandchild that it’s your job to keep them safe and healthy and you will be the one to decide the appropriate times when they will be allowed to use the bathroom alone.”
- Keep your medications out of reach. There’s nothing more exciting for a toddler than rummaging through granny’s purse. Unfortunately, your purse is a huge health hazard for roving hands that might get into your medication or other items while you’re waiting to board a plane, while you’re driving, etc. “Grandparents may have completely childproofed their house,” says Black. “But often leave their guard down when they’re in the car or traveling with their grandkids."
- Know how to administer their medication. Prior to the trip, get detailed information about any prescribed medications, including the name, how often, when and how to administer the meds, advises Wu. “If the child is old enough to self-administer — usually age 12 or older, depending on the child's maturity level — it's okay for the child to demonstrate how they do it to the grandparents, but preferably in the presence of the parents.”
- Know how to use an EpiPen. Allergic reactions happen — often when they’re least expected. Having a working knowledge of how to use an injectable form of epinephrine that can stop or slow an allergic reaction is highly useful — and critical if your grandchild has a known drug or food allergy. The child’s parents should give you a thorough demo of exactly how to use an EpiPen, and also outline what steps to take should you be faced with a serious allergic reaction.
- Never let your grandchild stay in the car alone. There’s never a reason to leave a child in the car alone, says Jennifer Hoekstra, an injury prevention specialist at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “This poses a very real risk for heatstroke, unintentional injury in the vehicle or abduction,” she says.
- Pack safe snacks. Avoid packing snacks or road food that can be choking hazards, says Hoekstra. “That can include grapes, small hard round hard candy, hot dogs and popcorn,” she says.