Photo Credit: Holly C Freeman/Getty Images
Tis the season of fall festivals, holiday fairs, apple picking, holiday shopping and other fun (but crowded!) activities where kids may have the inclination to wander off. Getting separated from your child in a crowded place is every parent's worst nightmare, but most parents at one time or another have felt that temporary moment of panic -- like when you realize your back door is open and your toddler is no longer playing with the refrigerator magnets. All of these incidents have happy endings of course (kid gets found), and except for the tiny heart attacks and gray hairs no one is worse the wear.
The fact is, kids are quick and curious, and as a result, they get lost sometimes, even under the supervision of paranoid parents like me. On a recent trip to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania, my husband and I counted no less than 12 lost child announcements over the speaker system, and we cringed at the thought of it every time. Scary! That's why it's key to remember these tips the next time you’re out and about:
Have the talk. “Talk to you kids about the importance of staying close -- even when they may be in an exciting place,” says Kayt Sukel, a parenting writer and blogger for the website Travel Savvy Mom. It’s OK to scare them, just a little, letting them know how sad you would be if you were separated, or if a stranger took them. Also, teach your child to look for people in uniforms or other moms with kids if they get lost. And, finally, choose a meeting spot for bigger kids -- like a fountain at a park, or a particular store in the mall -- in case you do get separated (this works for wandering spouses, too!).
Go bright. Sukel says she dresses her son in a brightly colored T-shirt when they’re in crowded places for easy spotting. “He has a yellow Transformers eyesore that is just perfect for this. There is no missing him when he wears it,” she says. She also recommends snapping a quick phone photo when you begin an excursion to Disneyland or some other crowded place, in case God forbid you have to pass on identifying information to park authorities.
Get them tattooed. Buy temporary safety "tattoos" or stickers with identifying information. There are several different brands of these "tattoo sheets" where you can write your telephone number or address, or even note important medical information like an allergy or other problem. Then you just put them on your kids's arm. It's a great idea for school trips or special needs kids kids, too. Check out SafetyTat.com or MyPreciousKid.com.
Don’t be a hermit. “My biggest piece of advice is to just make sure you regularly get out in the world -- especially in crowded and unknown type of places -- so your child knows to be aware of their surroundings, and, of course, where you are,” says Sukel. “One almost-situation in a shopping mall or grocery story can help teach your child to be as vigilant as you are about where everyone is at all times.”
Stick together. Don’t let young children go to bathrooms or concession stands without you, and send older kids in groups (predators tend to target kids who are alone), suggests the city-navigation experts at New York magazine.
Determine a meeting point. When navigating the big city, places like subways can be confusing and complicated. If you catch the train but your kid doesn't, or vice versa, whoever's left on the platform should go directly to the ticket booth, advise the travel gurus at Travel + Leisure. The person on the train should contact the conductor, and the clerks will contact the conductors and the police.
Make a safety plan. If you're in the woods, camping or doing other activities in natures where kids could potentially get lost, the safety plan should be to wait in the closest safe place to where they first noticed they were lost, says nonprofit org Kidpower. Explain that you will look for them, and a ranger may come looking for them -- tell kids to have the ranger take them to your family's predetermined meeting place where they would meet up with you.
If a separation does happen, try your best not to panic. Keeping a level head will help you figure out where your little explorer might have gone (and chances are, it isn’t as far off as you’d think). Enlist the help of a security person or another trustworthy adult ASAP, and start searching. And once you do find each other, give him a big hug, and let him know that now he gets to hold your hand until he turns 18.