This is truly one of my greatest fears and has been a very real nightmare for many parents. I am reminded of how quickly a situation can transition into dangerous territory when looking after my son who is now crawling. I turn my back for just a second and he’s made strides across the floor and placing something in his mouth that doesn’t belong there, or a millisecond away from dropping at a height that could potentially hurt the little guy.
The same can be said for innocent days out with the family. You’ve probably witnessed or heard of similar scenarios where a child gets lost or separated from their family in a busy environment, or shopping mall, or the beach. It’s one of the most terrifying and stressful experiences that any parent can go through. Nobody ever plans to lose their child, but with crowds, colorful distractions, a moment with your eyes off your little one means that getting separated from a child when out truly can happen to even the most careful of parents.
Use the following tips to avoid this from happening on a family fun day out.
Dress your child in bright colors
As simple as it sounds, this can seriously save lives. It’s easier to spot a child in a crowd or, god forbid, while being led away by a stranger. Trade in muted tones for bright or neon colors on days out so that your child’s whereabouts will immediately draw your attention. Also, think about dressing in a similar color scheme to make it easier for your little ones to locate you in a busy crowd should they get distracted by something and lose track of you.
Have a safety talk with your child
When it comes to topics like these, everything should always begin with an open conversation. Communication is key, and from as early on as possible. Before heading out to the mall, amusement park, beach, or any other designated location, sit down with your child and share with them the importance of staying together and not running off on their own. Most importantly stress what action to take in the event that they should lose sight of you; tell them to look for an appropriate adult to help them, as well as teaching them to remember your cell phone number by singing it to them using a familiar song or tune. If your child is old enough, you may want to think about purchasing them a phone, specifically for emergency use only.
Remind your child to stay calm but scream if necessary
You want your calming reassurances to echo in your child’s subconscious, ready to be used as a tool in times of crisis. The same goes for situations like these. Remind your child of the importance of staying calm should they get separated from you. Reassure them, that no matter what, you will always find them. This will help keep your child calm in such a situation and ensure that their stress levels are kept at a minimum.
You don’t want to scaremonger your children, however, at the appropriate age, it’s also important to teach your child some life-saving strategies should in the unlikely event someone try to take them. The first thing that destabilizes a child is fear. Should someone try and frighten them into submission or silence them, giving your child preventative tools to combat such a scenario can be the difference between a lost or safely returned child. Let them know that under such circumstances always, always, always, cry out for help, scream, and let the people around them know that they are lost and with a stranger. Reassure them, that the people around them will always want to help safely return them to you!
Take a photo before your day out
Before you set out for the day, make it a tradition to take a photo of the family together, or just your children. This makes an excellent reference to what attire everyone has on, and can especially be handy when you’re in a panic and might easily forget details. Have your children take note of what you have on before leaving the house too.
Choose a good meeting spot
Always set a meeting point in case your kids get separated from the family or group in a crowded place. This works for both young children and adults. When out with friends, I also usually assign a meeting point or code of behavior to follow should we intentionally or unintentionally split up. Take your whole family to the meeting spot before starting the activities for the day. This works especially well in theme parks or fairs. Make sure that everyone is aware of where to go if they ever get lost from the group and always remember to ensure that the meeting place is a permanent spot such as a candy store (the kids won’t forget such a spot in a hurry) and not a mobile signpost, like a hotdog stand!
Equip your child with a form of ID
To prevent stress and fear always include a form of identification on your child. This will help shorten the time it takes for you to be reunited. These labels can come in many formats, including bracelets, tags on necklaces, badges, and notes in pockets or pinned to their clothing. Avoid writing your child’s information and instead only include your own name and cell phone number as a precaution.
Try and stay connected
This one is simple if actively applied and done consistently. It’s not rocket science and while it’s common knowledge to keep an eye on your child when out, the opposite is easily done. Stay physically connected through your hands. Whether you’re walking amongst a crowd, down the beachfront, or in a mall, when you hold hands with your child you minimize the fear of losing them and can keep a closer eye on them. Reward your children when they follow through on the instructions given to them, and take away treats on the day when instructions are not followed, in order to stress the importance of them. This could involve taking away devices on the drive home, weekend candy, or social time once home. Stay safe!