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When my kids were very small, I took relatively few subway journeys with them. We live in the Washington DC suburbs in a town that we often joke is about 42 minutes away by car from everywhere we’d like to go.
Because the little ones could sometimes sneak a nap during the ride, and because we needed to schlep so much crap with us, taking the car on our forays into downtown just seemed easier. Driving downtown, though, was stressful, and parking was expensive. Now that the boys are 4 and 7, we’re taking much more advantage of the subway system.
Riding the subway with kids is not without its own stressors, though. Worries about getting our family lost, having someone get hurt, or getting separated from the kids have plagued me from time to time. If that’s the case for you, too, here are some thoughts to consider to give yourself some piece of mind and make the trip a bit easier.
Tips for Riding the Subway with Kids
Before you go:
- Make sure your kids have contact info for you. The kids and I regularly practice my cell phone number together, but I’m not 100% confident they would be able to recall it in an emergency. You could consider accessorizing your kids with a dog tag, bracelet, or a lanyard that has your contact info on it. You can also just write your phone number on their skin and cover it with a liquid bandaid (like Skin Shield) to keep it from rubbing off.
- Make sure you are able to describe your kids in detail. Consider taking a quick photo of the kids in the clothes they’re wearing that day. This will help you to give a clear, accurate description of them should you get separated.
- Pack some wipes or hand sanitizer. Your kids will touch every handrail, bench, subway pole, and elevator button and then find a reason to put their hands in their mouths. I’m no germaphobe, but subway trips are one time I definitely like to wipe off their hands.
- Map your route. Subway maps are available online and can often give you directions that are so specific, they even include which exit you need to take from the station. Do your research, and make sure you can access that research offline during your journey. WiFi and cellular signals are typically spotty underground.
- Know your fare. Check the subway system’s web page for fare information before you go. In many places, kids ride for a free or reduced fare. Knowing which pass you need to buy before you go will save you time at the station. Finally, many systems make use of “rush hour fares” and if your schedule is flexible, traveling a bit earlier or later could save you a few dollars.
At the station:
- Take your time, but stay out of the way. It’s easy to get sucked into the hustle and bustle of a busy station. Relax and take your time to avoid falls, fighting closing subway doors, etc. That said, remember that most people in the station ARE in a hurry to get where they’re going. Now is a great time to teach your kids which side of the escalator to stand on if they’re not going to walk.
- If you find an opportunity, chat about safety as you go. Point out safety signs and their meanings. Point out potential helpers such as subway employees, policemen, and other families with kids. While we wait for the train, my kids and I often play a game of “Who Would You Ask for Help?”
Getting on/off the train:
- Consider walking to the end of the platform. For me, getting on the train is always the most stressful part of riding the subway with kids. I picture doors closing and separating us from one another. To help avoid having this happen, consider walking to the end of the platform to board the train. The biggest crowds usually gather by the stairs in the middle, so the edges of the platform typically have emptier cars and fewer people trying to get on and off.
- This goes without saying, but stay close. If your child is small enough that you’d hold his hand when crossing the street, hold his hand. Doors often close without warning, and gaps that are big enough for a child to fall through can exist between the train and platform. If your child doesn’t hold your hand anymore, consider at least placing a hand on his shoulder so other riders know to let you board together.
- Make a plan for what will happen if you do get separated. My kids know that if they are left behind at the station, they are to go to the nearest bench and wait for me. If they are left on the train, they are to get off at the next stop, find the nearest bench, and wait for me. If they panic and this system breaks down, they’ve got my contact info on their bodies and I’ve got a photo of them from that day on my phone. It’s not a perfect system, but it makes me feel relatively confident.
On the train:
- Don’t worry if you can’t get a seat for the kids. They can hold onto the pole or onto you.
- Teach your kids about how to navigate. If you are in a relatively uncrowded car, you can look over the map together, count the number of stops, talk about the different lines, and talk about your final destination. It’s never too early to teach your kids how to navigate on their own.
- Have another talk about safety. This is also another good time to talk about the safety signs you see and to play another game of “Who Would You Ask for Help?”
It may cause a little anxiety your first time, but riding the subway is a relatively safe and easy way to navigate around a large and unfamiliar city. In my experience, the kids love the adventure. Hopefully, armed with a bit of information before you go, Mom and Dad will enjoy the adventure, too.
I know lots of you probably ride the subway with kids much more often than me.
Do you have any tips to share?
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