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Preventing Kids From Getting Lost

And what to do if it happens!

 by Alyssa Dver

“I can’t find my child” are possibly the most dreaded words for any parent or caregiver.  The panic that a parent feels is indescribable.  The parent immediately worries that the child has been harmed or abducted.  Luckily, most of the time, the child is found physically unharmed and quickly reunited.  However, even a momentary accidental wandering can leave indelible trauma for both child and parent.

While most people do not voluntarily confess, 90% of families are affected.  American children get lost over 2000 times each day in all kinds of public places such as beaches, amusement parks, fairs, and airports.

Unfortunately, children do get lost.  It is not a result of bad parenting or bad children, and as “good” parents, we can be proactive and avoid or at least minimize the profound trauma and possible physical harm that occurs when a child is lost.  With these simple tips, you can help keep your child safe wherever you go.

Put Safe, Easily Accessible Contact Information on Your Child

While there is no substitute for parental / caregiver attention, the best preparation is to put a note or tag with your cell phone number on your child in an easily accessible place.  This allows another adult to see and use it to quickly contact you (or the caregiver that is out with your child).  

Young children, or some special needs children who cannot speak, should have the identification visible so that another person can access it easily without needing to undo the child’s clothing.  If your child fidgets with the I.D., attach it to the back of their clothing between their shoulder blades.  Older children can carry the cell phone information in their pocket if you are confident that they will be able to produce that information when they need it.  You can use a laminated card, a sticker, or one of the various I.D. products on the market.  Never put your home address information on the I.D.

identification label

Dress Children in Bright, Special “Away from Home” Clothing

To help spot children easily, dress them in very brightly colored external clothing such as a t-shirt, hat, or jacket.  Very bright yellow or green works best.  Some parents routinely dress themselves and their children in the same color when they are going out to crowded places.  Bright apparel can also serve as a key identifier for others helping you to find your missing child.

Carry a Recent Photo and Description of Each Child

Carrying a recent photo of your child is one of the most important things you can do for their safety.  On the back of the photo, note the child’s eye color, hair color, height, weight, and any birthmarks or other distinguishing marks.  If your child is one of multiples, note that as well.  Be sure to put your cell number on the back, too.  Do this for each of your children.  If you need assistance from other people to find your child, having that photo and information available can make a real difference in a quick and successful reunion.

Teach Your Child to Ask Another Mommy for Help

A scared child may not be able to find a trusted authority quickly.  It is difficult to even describe a typical guard or officer.   Teach your children to enlist help from another mother.  Children intuitively know that a mommy is a woman with other kids. This is one type of ‘stranger’ that you do want your child to talk to if he / she needs help.  Also, right before you arrive at a public place, remind your child what to do if they get lost.

Reinforce Good Behavior

When you go out to a public place, even the supermarket, and you return without your child getting lost, tell them that they  were good for staying with you the entire time while you were out.  Positive reinforcement is the best way to elicit the behavior you want from your child.

What to Do Immediately When Your Child Is Lost

Many public places such as retail stores, amusement parks, and beaches now have specific lost child procedures such as lock downs.  If your child does get lost, try to remain calm and quickly find an onsite employee to trigger the venue’s lost child process.  Don’t wander too far away from the spot where you last saw your child.  Often the child is still nearby.  If you sense that your child is more than just temporarily lost, call the police.  It is better to call back to report that you have found your child than to lose any precious time that can make a critical difference in safely finding your child.

Celebrate, Don’t Berate When You Are Reunited

young boy on man's back Once you are reunited with your child, be sure to congratulate them for following the instructions you taught them in case they get lost. 

Don’t yell at your child for getting lost.  If the child ever gets lost again, they may prefer to remain lost rather than be yelled at again. 

If the child did not follow the proper instructions when they got lost, discuss the incident seriously but calmly and recall precisely how you both felt while you were separated.  Often times, the child doesn’t even think they were missing at all – the child may think that you were the one lost! 

Reiterate how important it is that they don’t wander off next time and remind them about finding another mommy for help.

 

 

 

 

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