In the wake of the controversy surrounding the Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, and the four-year-old child who managed to get into the Gorilla World enclosure, fingers have been pointed in multiple directions.
Some believe it’s the parents’ fault for allowing their son to wander off and get through several barriers and into the enclosure.
Others believe it’s the zoo’s fault for not properly securing their premises and for taking the painful, last resort step of shooting the gorilla before the animal harmed the child.
No matter which side you're on in this debate, there is one thing for certain — it’s a teaching moment for all parents with young children. Just one look at the situation can bring back horror stories for parents who’ve temporarily lost track of their kids. I can remember a moment when my wife lost track of our older son at the beach, distracted by his baby brother, and the next thing she knew, he was out in the water. Thanks to an alert stranger, our son was rescued unharmed.
So what can parents take away from the situation at the Cincinnati Zoo? Here are a few thoughts.
1. Try to Avoid Potential Distractions
In addition to eyes in the back of our heads, parents must have a sixth sense about dangerous situations that might befall our children. Public places pose a special danger because of the amount of people around, the new and unusual surroundings for parents and their children, and the inability to watch our children every single second. If there are places that you know pose a specific risk, you might want to avoid those areas, especially if you will be alone with more than one child. It might not be your first choice, but it might be your best choice.
2. Designate Someone to Watch the Kids at All Times
If you’re with other adults or a responsible, trusted teen, you need to designate someone to watch the children at all times. This means that person is responsible for watching a specific number of children, no questions asked. That means no social media posting, no getting distracted by another person, and no wandering off assuming that someone else is watching the kids.
3. Keep a Head Count
You also need to be in the habit of taking a head count of the kids in your care every few minutes to make sure that everyone is safe and accounted for. This is true especially if you are watching or caring for more than two kids. It might seem like overkill, but ask any preschool teacher and they will tell you that consistent head counts keep them sane.
4. Adhere to Your Kids' Habits
This is an important step. You know if you have a child who likes to run off or climb on every tall structure in sight or is not afraid to engage with strangers. If you have a child with these characteristics, you need to pay special attention to them. Should you use a leash? That’s a decision that only your family can make.
However, if you have a persistent problem with a child running off, you need to think long and hard about the places you visit, when you visit them, and how you handle your child while you’re there.
5. Warn Them Ahead of Time
Once you arrive at a place with potential pitfalls and distraction land mines, have a clear talk with your kids, spouse, or other family members who are with you. Explain the ground rules. What kind of behavior is expected? What will happen if those behavior guidelines are not met? What are some of the areas to avoid?
6. Remain Alert
Finally, in the time that we live in, it’s critical for parents to always be aware of where they are, who’s around, and what you would do if an emergency situation unfolded. And if we want to come home with of our family members safe and accounted for, it’s the way we have to approach life.