No one wants to think about their child getting lost, but I swear, if it happens to you, you’ll wish up and down that you had prepared for it in advance. I should know. It happened to me and T. For about 10 excruciating minutes.Okay, so 10 minutes might not sound like much to you. But in the MOMENT, it felt like an eternity to me. We were at the playground and, as usual, T had made friends fast and was having a grand old time. He had joined a pack of boys on bikes and scooters and had just flashed me a gleeful grin as he glided past me on his scooter. I was on the sidelines, rocking Baby S to sleep in the sling, and chit-chatting with another mom.
“Aha!” you might be thinking. “ ‘Chit-chatting.’ THERE’s your problem. You weren’t watching your kid 100 percent of the time, WERE you?” And truthfully, no, I wasn’t. T has finally matured enough to where I feel fairly confident that he will always stay within my field of vision without me needing to watch him like a hawk (which is what I did for the first five years of his life). So, no. My eyes were not super-glued to him in this particular scenario.
But it seemed like only seconds after he scootered past me that I noticed he wasn’t on the playground anymore. Not yet panicked, I excused myself from the conversation with the other mother to track down T. I assumed that he wasn’t far off, but when I didn’t see his bright green shirt anywhere in sight, my heart began to pound. I started racking my brain to remember the other kids he was with. How they were dressed. How many there were. Although there were plenty of kids zipping around on bikes and scooters, none of them looked like the ones that T had been playing with.
After circling the play area three or four times, I finally backtracked to the other mom (with whom I was chit-chatting) and asked her for help. I also asked a dad whose child had been playing with T earlier. (This dad was exceptionally observant. When I asked if he remembered seeing my son, he replied, “Sure do. Jeans, green shirt, black helmet, red scooter. Scootered off with a bunch of boys about five minutes ago.” Come to think of it, he must have been a police officer!)
Anyway, the seconds passed ever so slowly as I continued to circle and scan the area for T. Finally, Chit-Chat Mom and Police Officer Dad called out to me and pointed emphatically across the park to T, who was diligently scootering back from the direction of the parking lot.
A wave of relief washed over me. I mouthed a heartfelt “thank you” to the mom and dad, then turned my attention to T.
“Where did you GO? I was so WORRIED about you! I thought you were LOST!”
When he hung his head low, I had to take a deep breath and turn down the hysterics. I knelt to his eye level, gave him a huge hug, and said, “I’m so glad you’re back. But you must always, ALWAYS tell Mommy where you’re going. And always, ALWAYS stay where we can see each other, okay?”
After this scary little wake-up call, we’ve come up with a game plan for T in case (heaven forbid) he ever gets lost again.
What Kids Can Do If They Get Lost
Before going out, dress to impress. (This goes for mom and dad, as well). A bright t-shirt, colorful baseball cap, big floppy sun hat, or bold scarf. Something that can easily be seen from far away. Ask each other, “What am I wearing?” The idea here is to memorize what each other looks like on any particular day. I’ve even heard of people taking pictures of their kid every morning before they go out. This is easy enough to do, since most people have camera cell phones.
Stay put. If your child realizes you’re no longer around, teach him to stay put for a while because you’re most likely looking for him.
Get loud. Being lost is no time to worry about social graces. It’s totally okay for your child to yell for help. “Help!” “Fire!” “I’m lost!” are all good ways to get attention. And contrary to what you may think, shouting for help is not a likely lure for predators. A child yelling for help is too conspicuous and has already attracted witnesses!
Yell your first name. Teach your child to yell for you by name. A random child yelling “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” is a lot easier to tune out than one who is yelling your actual name. Knowing your full name also comes in handy when you’re being paged: “Attention shoppers. Will Jane Smith please come to the customer service desk? Your child is waiting for you.”
Ask another mommy with kids for help. Dads, please don’t feel offended here. Statistically speaking, I truly believe a child is more likely to remain safe in the presence of a woman than that of a man. And even safer if that woman is surrounded by kids. There. I said it. Bring on the flames.
Ask a worker. If your child is lost in a store or mall, teach him that it’s okay to go up to a cashier or security guard and ask for help.
Do not go anywhere with anyone unless he asks mom or dad for permission first. This one could get sticky, but we’re teaching T never to go anywhere with anyone, even if he is lost. He could ask to borrow someone’s cell phone to call us (he knows our numbers by heart). If the person he’s asked for help insists that he follow them, he knows to yell “NO!” and find someone else.
Parents Magazine – Advice is geared towards parents of preschoolers, but is still very useful information for all ages
KeepYourChildSafe.org – Simple kids’ online book on how to remain safe while lost
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children – What to do if YOU see a child who appears to be lost
Have you ever been accidentally separated from your child, even for just a few moments? What was it like and what did you do? What have you taught your kids about what to do if they get lost? Do you have any advice for parents on how to find a lost child?
Sophia savors all the joys (and challenges!) of family life with her husband and two kids in San Diego. Read more of her (mis)adventures in mothering at MamaSayMamaSo.