You turned your head for a second and they were gone...
I think it is safe to say there are not too many parents who haven’t experienced that sinking feeling when they have turned around and momentarily lost sight of their little one. They were right by your side and then quicker than you can say “Harry Houdini” they disappeared.
Fortunately most the time children are returned safe and sound to parents. It is important however to think about what you will do in the event your little one goes missing – what you do can greatly affect the outcome & most certainly reduce the time before your little one is safe and sound back in your arms – because lets face it every second you are separated from your child in this situation feels like forever. On the other side it’s also important to think aboutwhat you will do if you find a lost child.
While writing this it got me thinking about what I would do, and made me realise how unprepared I was in the event that my child was lost. There are so many different situations and scenarios it’s difficult to come up with one plan that will work in all situations. Also note, there are three people that can impact the outcome of this situation -
- The parent of the lost child
- The lost child
- The person who finds the lost child
Firstly lets touch on prevention. Talk to your child - I have found it effective to talk to my child before going into busy places and explain to him that there are lots of people and it is easy to get separated. By going over our plan beforehand it makes the risk of being seperated feel more real to him and he is more willing to stay close to me and hold my hand.
For younger children (and now I know these are controversial), but where there are significant risks, such as massive crowds or a busy train station, you should consider if some sort of harness or even wrist lanyard should be used to stop them from running off.
Remember for every second they are out of your direct supervision that are at a higher risk of harm!
Parent of the lost child
- Make sure you talk to your child about what to do if they find themselves lost. Tell them to stop walking, look all around and call out for you.
- Have a plan that you and your child have discussed. Depending on the situation and the age of the child you could agree that your child stay where they are and wait for you, go to the last place you saw each other or have an agreed meeting place (you may need to use a combination of these and use agreed times frames).
- Talk to your child about good strangers - there is a lot of debate about this, but I tell my child to seek out a Mum (preferably) or Dad in the event we are separated
- Write your mobile number on the inside of your child's wrist, or purchase a kids ID wristband or child tattoo, with your contact details on it (remember to have a backup plan though, mobiles have a habit of going flat or dropping out when we need them most - so consider using a child wrist band that also includes a place to write your meeting place).
- Always make a mental note (or actual note) of what your child is wearing ( you could take a photo of them before you go to, so you also have a recent photo - it's amazing how you can forget these details when under the stress of such a situation. If you are going to an event where there will be lots of children, dress them in something distinct, rather than a Ben 10 or Dora tshirt, as you can bet half the kids there will be wearing them, this will make them easier for others to identify.
- Keep a recent photo of them on your phone & always have a back up photo in you bag in the event your phone is not working
- In high risk situations such as travelling through a busy strain station or in a large crowd, consider the use of a child safety vest for older children, or a child harness restraint)
The lost child
- Ensure you check your child’s understanding of your plan by having them tell it back to you
- Practice the plan with your child regularly. Pick certain situations and stop and ask them what they would do if they were lost right now? Get them to look around and point out good strangers and ask them to explain why they chose that person?
- Ensure your child knows to let any person helping them know about your agreed plan
The person who finds a lost child
- Firstly talk to and reassure the child rather than quickly whisk them away to a help desk or security (children are usually noticed as missing within minutes so it is more likely the parent is close by)
- Try to get as much information from them as possible like where they last saw their parent and whether they have an agreed plan, the more time goes on they may get more distressed and be less likely to provided helpful information.
- Wherever possible send someone to get help (to notify centre management or security) rather than taking the child somewhere – this should be a last resort.
We hope that no parent has to go through this, but unfortunately due the nature of children it does happen, so it’s best to be prepared. We hope you never need to use this information but hope in the event that it does this has given you the information you need to exercise a plan that sees your little one quickly, safe and sound back in your arms.
Remember, the best made plans only work if you practice them, so make sure you stop and discuss your plan regularly in different scenarios and test (not for real of course!) their understanding often.