Kids lose their parents; parents lose their kids – it happens and its terrifying. The look of anguish in a child’s face when they discover they have been separated from their parent is unmistakable. The panic and fear in a parent when they cannot locate their child in a crowd is indescribable.
Strategies for lost children are age specific. If your child is young and a ‘wanderer’ consider a body harness, or wrist to wrist tether.
When a child is lost, they tend to run, which makes finding them very difficult. The fear and panic cause them to think they need scramble to find you…. however, they opposite is true! They need to stay still, in one place so you can find them.
Note to the General Public…NEVER, EVER have a frightened child come with you to a different location, even if you intend to bring them to customer service or security. If you discover a lost child, wait with them in the exact location you have found them. Reassure that child that their parent would never leave them, and they are to stay in that one spot, and their parent will return for them. Stay with that child in that place and call for help to arrive. If the child knows the parents phone number, call it for them. Or if you feel a significant amount of time has lapsed, call security or the police. Stay with that child until the situation is resolved.
- Talk to your child about getting lost – have that frank and real conversation. Help them to know how frightening it is, and then help them to know what to do so they can be found quickly. Practice the strategies listed below with your child. Its part of their personal safety plan, which requires rehearsal and discussion to be effective.
- Dress your child in bright clothing – its easier to spot a neon green shirt than it is a navy one.
- Make sure your child knows your full name and phone number, and their full name. If need be, pin this information inside their jacket or a pocket.
- Teach your child to stay close to you and to keep their hand in your pocket. With their hand in your pocket, you are aware of their touch and it gives them a tangible item to focus on. This way, you have both your hands free if you need to carry or pick up something (including a younger child). Talk about being ‘stuck like glue’.
- If your child is older, talk about having a meeting place if you get separated. This should be a place that can be easily spotted from their vantage point. A clock tower, or a set of stairs that is visual from their height through a crowd works well.
- If your child does get lost, instruct them to stop and stand firm in the spot the are in and shout in their very loudest voice “Mom, (Dad, Grandma etc) I am here”. The child should keep calling this phrase until you or another adult comes to them. A key factor in this strategy is to practice, practice, practice. Role play scenarios of being lost and have your child call out to you, and you respond immediately.
- Teach your child about SafeStrangers: typically, a person with kids. If your child needs help, remind them to look for someone pushing a stroller.
- Teach your child to never go to a different location with someone they don’t know.