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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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‘Watch Over The Souls Of Your Children’

           My last two columns dealt with the biblical injunction that we “watch over our souls.” Hashem has commanded us to do what we can to keep ourselves healthy and alive. We are not to focus solely on ourselves but also to keep an eye on our families, friends and neighbors – especially those who are alone, infirm, elderly, and limited in their ability to efficiently take care of themselves.  This is especially so for babies and children.


 


I recently was at a busy airport and saw aheimishe family making their way to the check- in counter. There were several children in tow and lots of luggage. People were staring at them and, as I got closer, I realized why. A boy of about 20 months was jumping and skipping around – but was not getting too far. Attached to his wrist was a long leash, the other end of which was attached to his mother’s wrist. Because the leash was stretchable, he was able to prance and run around but could not get away. Some people walked past the parents with disapproving frowns distorting their faces, for the very idea of “chaining a child” was an affront to them. But I thought to myself, kol hakavod.


 


It is easy for a parent to get distracted while navigating through a busy international airport, with its seemingly endless waiting, the long walk to the gate, and digging up passports and other documents. In a blink a toddler can walk away unnoticed. By having their child on a leash, these parents were “watching over the soul” of their little one.


 


I think that using some kind of restraint when very young children are in a crowded public place like a mall or playground (where they can easily get separated from their parent/babysitter/bubbe) is the “glatt” thing to do. This is especially so when the teenager or adult has several children under his/her care.


 


I strongly feel that older children, who are allowed to walk alone, be given “kid-friendly” cell phones, whereby they can receive or call certain programmed numbers if they need help. Better they should have the ability to call home than ask a stranger, even a heimishe-looking one, for help. Tragically, “frum” garb does not always translate into a safe adult.


 


Despite high gas prices, people need to get into their cars and go wherever they need to go. In this regard, here are some suggestions on keeping children safe. First, before you back out of your driveway, look around to see if there are children playing on the sidewalk or riding bikes. Notify the kids or adults (who are hopefully outside watching them) that you will be backing up, and that they should stay put until you are on the road.


 


Nowadays trucks and vans are equipped with a warning siren when going in reverse, but unfortunately this is not so with cars. I would like to see all vehicles equipped with one; but until then, be your own warning device. Glance around and make sure it is safe to back out.


 


If your car was parked outside overnight (or for a few hours in a public parking lot) I suggest you do a walk-around, and glance in the front and back seats before getting in. As improbable as it likely is, a stranger with sinister motives could be hiding inside – especially if yours is a bigger car or van.


 


And when arriving at your destination also glance in the front and back seats, to make sure you haven’t left something important behind, like your cell phone or pocketbook – or a sleeping infant. It is no laughing matter. Harried, distracted and exhausted parents have tragically left infants in cars where extreme heat or cold resulted in horrific heartache and loss.


 


I have made a habit when on the subway or bus to look behind at my seat after I have gotten up to get off. On many an occasion, I saw that I had left behind a bag with food, new clothing, an umbrella, or even my pocketbook. It only takes a second to look, and that quick glance has saved me from much aggravation.


 


With the summer heat upon us, it is crucial to keep young children hydrated. If you come in from an outing and you’re thirsty, no doubt your baby is also thirsty. Crying that you might attribute to tiredness or crankiness can be a desperate plea for something to drink.  Young but verbal children engrossed in play may not come in and ask for a drink – but go out and offer them one anyway. They may be dehydrated but too busy playing to notice how hot they are. Make sure all bedrooms, at the very least, have a fan. Young children feel the heat like everyone else.


 


Always “test-drive” fans and other electrical appliances like lamps that are new, or haven’t been used in a long time. Leave them on during the day for several hours in a room where you can notice if they throw out electrical sparks or are malfunctioning. Always check the wire for any signs of wear and tear. And make sure you have working smoke detectors on all levels of the house, as well as a well-rehearsed escape plan in case of an emergency.


 


Teach older children to always close the safety gates so that babies cannot crawl onto steps or go into rooms that are not childproof. It goes without saying that there should always be a pair of responsible, adult eyes on babies and young children – especially when they are outdoors. Don’t assume that being with other, slightly older children will ensure their safety. The blind can’t lead the blind – and children can’t watch over children.


 


While these recommendations do not take much effort or expense, they can save a family much anguish. Hashem wants us to take the initial, necessary precautions to keep our families and ourselves safe. He will do the rest.

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