Even if you have only lost sight of your child for 20 seconds, you know the feeling. The panic, anxiety, and worst-case scenario thoughts that flood your mind. For me, it lasted about 20 minutes. Last month at Adventure Landing, I lost my darling 5-year-old daughter. She had been playing in the pirate play area with her twin sister who returned to me without her. I rounded the area several times, being somewhat limited with my toddler and other 5-year-old in tow. She’s a decent swimmer and was wearing a floaty, but I was more concerned that someone could have taken her. After not being successful looking on my own for about 10 minutes, I notified a lifeguard that my daughter was lost (insert facepalm emoji). They got her description and then went to search for her. About five minutes later they found her! She was playing on a slide and didn’t even know she was lost.
After sharing this story with a friend, I found out she, too, had recently lost her young daughter, but even more terrifying, while they were at the beach. We are both so incredibly fortunate that everything turned out okay and that it was only a scary learning opportunity.
With it being the middle of the summer and prime vacation time, many of us will be visiting crowded places with our families. It’s really easy to lose a child in a crowd, and it isn’t just an issue of being negligent. This can happen to anyone. If your child gets bumped or a few steps behind, they can get disoriented and start looking for you — possibly in the wrong direction! Ten seconds is enough time to lose a child, and it’s not because you did anything wrong. It’s because unexpected things can happen.
So prepare yourself now! If you turn around and your child is no longer with you, these tips will help you reconnect quickly.
1. Talk to your kids before you go out. This is assuming your child is old enough to have a conversation. Run through a few role-play scenarios on what to do if you were to get separated. Talk about where to go, who to talk to, and how they can get help. Even if you have already talked about this, it’s good for them to have it fresh in their minds.
2. Designate a place to meet. Find something distinctive. A sculpture, something bright, a fountain, etc. Something that will stand out and wouldn’t be confused with a duplicate (e.g. NOT a bench). Make sure your kids know THIS IS THE PLACE WE MEET if we get separated!
3. Take a picture of your kids. Great for Instagram, even better if you get separated. In a high-stress moment it can be easy to forget or misidentify what your kid was wearing. It can also be very useful to have if you need help from an employee/search group/police officer in finding your child. I didn’t have a picture when I lost her, I didn’t even have my phone on me, but luckily I remembered she was wearing a pineapple swimsuit and two big “space buns” on her head.
4. Brand your child. In one way or another. I’ve seen a lot of options for this. There are a million types of ID bracelets. Search Amazon for “child ID bracelet.” They have custom bracelets you can have made, ones that have little pockets you can stick identification info inside, or these super cheap paper wrist bands that they use at amusement parks — you just write your info on them. I’ve even heard of parents writing their phone number on their child’s arm or tummy. You can buy tattoo paper and print off your own temporary tattoo IDs. You can stick your business/info card in your child’s pocket and tell them to give it to a safe person if they get separated from you. There are so many options here if your child is not old enough to remember your phone number.
5. Identify safe people. One thing my friend mentioned to me about losing her daughter was that her child didn’t know who to ask for help. She had told her children in the past that if they were to get lost, to go ask another mommy for help, but it had been awhile and she had forgotten. The general rule we’ve told our kids (suggested by our pediatrician) is for them to find someone who looks like a mommy or a grandma, but when we are going somewhere crowded I like to be more specific and help them identify some safe people to ask for help. At Adventure Landing, now I always identify the lifeguards to them. I point them out, tell them what they are wearing and if they need help to find one of them. If your are at a place or event that has staff in uniform, point it out to your kids. Even if you go there twice a week, tell your kids every time you go!
Being prepared to handle these situations will help you enjoy your outings a little more this summer. Stay safe!
What things do you do to help keep your kids safe in crowds?