Simple Tips For What Happens When You and Your Child Get Separated
My mild mannered Clark Kent day job (Hey, even a Diva has to make a living!) is a family friendly venue where lots and lots of people bring their kids to play. As a security officer, I see hundreds of happy playing children, but sometimes they take off on their own personal adventure. What’s a parent to do when you’ve got a child who has a tendency to wander off on their own? I have seen many children that have become separated from their parents that are having a great time on their own, so the giveaway of a child crying their eyes out screaming Mommy is not going to clue us in that they are alone.
The Security Diva has some common sense parenting hacks for you to help you keep your kiddo safe when you go out. These tips are more for when you go to a bigger venue than the grocery or department store. I’m talking like the zoo, theme park, museum, festival or carnival, or some other major attraction. But you can still use some of these tips on your next trip to the market.
First thing to do if your little one has sprinted off is don’t panic! I know, I know, I know that is one of the scariest feelings there is for a parent to not know where your child is, but keeping calm really does help the situation. Panicking will make things harder and you may not be able to communicate to the right people what has happened. As soon as you notice your child is not where you thought they were, find an employee from the venue you are at. With the help of an employee, you could possibly have the entire place looking for your little wanderer in no time at all. Where I work, the majority of all the employees have radios and can communicate to everyone at once that a child has become separated from their parent. We try to be as discrete as possible so that only the employees know that there is a lost child. With everyone looking for the child, we find them fairly quickly and that terrible feeling will be all gone. I have had instances where the parent was in full panic mode and I wasn’t able to get a good description of the child because of it. A good description is key to finding your runner.
The description of the little wanderer is going to be what finds them. In panic mode, recollection of what they are wearing goes out the window. You know what your child looks like, but the employees and I don’t. Giving us a general description is good, but you could have just described ten kids in the same age range and gender. The more details you give the more you will narrow down the field. As I mentioned in a previous blog, (How to Keep Your Child Safe in a Public Place) taking a good photo of all the children in the group as soon as you get into the venue will help greatly if someone gets lost. You have created a digital description for us to use. I had a Grandmother just the other day who had lost her two grandchildren; a five year old boy and an eight year old girl. The first question I asked was what were they wearing. Grandma was silent for a few seconds and I could tell that because she was upset about them being missing, she couldn’t remember what the both of them were wearing. I immediately asked if she had taken a picture of them today and she brightened up and said she had. I was able to give all the employees a great description of the children because I could see exactly what they looked like. The grandkids were located in a different part of the building having fun playing, not realizing that Grandma was looking for them. They were found in the matter of a couple of minutes. It really was only about two minutes!
A great way to keep your child safe is to keep a good line on them so to speak. I have seen some adorable little back packs for young children that have a line attached to them. I really hesitate in calling them a leash because they are more of a life line between you and your child. But they do serve a purpose, they will keep your child close to you. The back pack will give your child a little bit of freedom to roam without having to hold on to your hand, be held or be in a stroller, and it will give you peace of mind by still having indirect contact with them. I have seen some really cute ones that are relatively inexpensive. I am not saying these are for everyone, but if you got a kid that’s a runner, then this might work for you. You know your child best, and you know what they will, or will not go for. I have a single male friend who doesn’t have children who used to think using the back pack was awful, until his brother had children and he took his nephew out with him. Then he realized that it was a great way to help know where the child is. They didn’t have them when my kids were young, and that is probably better because I would have ended up looking like a big city dog walker. My three younger kids are within a year and a half of each other so it got hectic at times. You can also use the backpack to store some items for your child, like their favorite toy or a snack or two. Have your child help you pack the back pack so they feel that it is there for them to keep their stuff in as opposed to a leash to keep them from escaping. It shouldn’t be used as a punishment, but as an aide to keep them safe.
After all my kids were of walking age, it was really hard to keep them from going in all different directions. I could turn my head to talk to one child and one of the others would spot something that they wanted to see, so off they go without telling me. I used to have them hold on to something, like the stroller, or my jacket and/or purse. This was a bit difficult at times because there was only so much room around me that they could hang on to and I had so many kids. In the supermarket, they all had a designated place to hold on to the cart. When I had my kids holding on to something, especially my jacket and my purse, I could tell when one of them wasn’t holding on to me. I was able to notice quicker that one could be about to wander off. I have also seen a pre-school class that uses a rope to take the children places. Each child holds the rope and then there is a teacher at the front and the back. This is a large group variation of the back pack with the line and something that I wish I had thought of when my kids were young. Teach them that they have to keep a hold of whatever it is that you designate to keep them safe. This also should not be used as a punishment, but as fun thing to keep them safe. The pre-school kids sing songs as they walk to where they are going.
This tip is definitely age sensitive. Teach your child your first AND last name. Does that sound weird? I have seen time and time again when we have a lost child that they don’t know what their parent’s names are. That is one of the first few questions we ask children that are old enough to be able to answer coherently. A lot of the time the response we get to “what is your adult’s name” is Mommy or Daddy. If we can get your full first and last name, we can page you to where we are with your lost child. We cannot, however, put out a page for Mommy because we would have half the place responding. Obviously this isn’t going to help with a child that is non-verbal. In that case you could consider writing your name or cell phone number on a piece of paper and pin it to your child. If the venue gives out wrist bands or something like that to identify that you have paid to get in, you could use that instead. We have wrist bands that I have seen parents write their cell number on. I think putting your FULL name and cell number on the wrist band or paper is a better idea because that way we can page you and or call you. That gives us a better chance of finding you quicker.
This is another age sensitive tip for older children that wander. Sometimes older kids will get bored with what Mom and Dad or younger siblings are doing and decide to go look at something else. I do that to my husband all the time, but I’m an adult (sort of) and I have a cell phone that I can call or text him when I finish looking at what diverted my attention. If your child is old enough to be trusted with a cell phone and is known to wander away, then by all means, give them one to use for the outing as a just in case. If they get separated from you, they can call you or you can call them if you notice first. This absolutely does not mean you can let your pre-teen or early teen go off on their own. Most places have policies as to how old kids have to be before they can go off on their own. It is 16 years old where I work. You should check with the staff to see at what age your kids can be without an adult so you know if it is okay or not for them to be on their own. I have had countless 13, 14, and 15 year olds tell me they are fine without their parents, but they are not. Let’s face it pre- and young teens are not the best decision makers and can get hurt or really lost just as easily as a toddler. You could use an inexpensive pay as you go phone that you only use for special outings.
I hope these child safety tips will help you and your little runner be safe! Just remember –
DON’T panic! Remaining calm will help the situation and reunite you with your little ones faster.
Get a picture of all the children in the group so you have a good digital description.
Consider using a back pack with a line for one child or a rope or something like that for multiple children to keep everyone together.
Teach your children your full name and if they are old enough teach them your cell number too.
Give your older wanderer an inexpensive cell phone to contact you if they get lost.