It’s a horrible gut-wrenching feeling followed by sheer panic when you realize that you’ve been separated from your child in public. Your mind races but can’t seem to grasp the situation. Where was the last place I saw her? What shirt did she pick out this morning? Which way did she go? Your heart beats loudly in your ears as you search desperately for your small daughter. But quickly enough you find her. She’s wondered only a few feet away to look at a display of light up shoes. All is well and your heart returns to its normal rhythm.
But the separation raises some important questions. Does your child know what to do if they become lost? Do they know not to talk to strangers? Are they aware enough to try to find someone to help them? These are all important questions that we’ll answer together.
We’ll discuss what you need to teach your child to do if they become lost in public.
Talk to Your Kids
Becoming separated in public is an uncomfortable topic. We as parents don’t want to think about our kids being lost or taken from us. It’s enough to cause a panic attack. And that’s where we miss the greatest opportunity to get our children back after a separation - talk openly with them before anything ever goes wrong.
I know you want to work on this, because you’re reading this article. You will need to push aside the discomfort of the topic in order to ready your child (and yourself) for this happening to your family. Speak confidently about getting lost. You may even want to tell about a funny time you got lost in a store back before the days of cell phones! *Gasp* Let them know it’s going to be okay and stick to the plan you make.
Keep an eye on your kids so you don't find yourself alone in the aisle.
I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at me thinking “Yea right, you teach my 4 year old not to panic.” Being lost from a parent can be terrifying to some kids. But so is the thought of being on fire. What does that have to do with anything? Small kids are taught Stop, Drop and Roll at a very early age. It’s not impossible for your child to learn basic concepts like don’t panic when they are lost. As parents we underestimate or kids, I know I have before. It’s okay.
Most adults can recognize a child who is visibly and emotionally upset. What’s the next thing we do, we look for the parent. If we don’t find a parent in the immediate area, we can safely assume this child is lost. Then we, as good people, act on behalf of the child to help find their missing parent. But we don’t need to totally rely on the astuteness of others to find our child. Our children need to know what how to act if they are lost.
After telling our kids not to panic, they need to look for a woman for help. Preferably a mom who has her kids with her. But for the sake of simplicity, your child should seek and accept help from a woman. Women are more likely to protect a lost child and are dramatically less likely to be a sex offender. A study from the Center of Sex Offender Management a project for the Department of Justice shows that only 1% of incarcerated sex offenders in the United States are female. This means that a woman is a safer choice for help.
But we don’t need to totally rely on the astuteness of others to find our child.
A Side Note: There are a lot of great dads out there, like me, who would help your child in a heartbeat. But we as men face much more scrutiny with children because, as mentioned before, men are more often sex offenders. It's a bad stigma, but it's factually supported. I have on several occasions found a lost child and then gone to a female store employee to alert them to the child. Once I see that the employee interacts with the child in a helpful way, I step back and begin looking for a panicked parent.
Talk to Strangers
Yes, you read that correctly. The idea of teaching our kids not to talk to strangers can actually have an unintended side effect. If your child becomes lost and has to tell someone their name, address or phone number, they will most likely have to give that information to a stranger. If your child is taught not to talk to strangers it may actually hinder them from being reunited with you quickly.
I wish I could say this paradigm shift was my idea, because it seems so simple and obvious. But this insight comes from Gavin de Becker in his book, Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents sane). De Becker says it plainly, “The irony is that if your child is ever lost in public, the ability to talk to strangers is actually the single greatest asset he could have.” What we as parents really fear is a stranger sweet talking our child into leaving somewhere with them. Then let’s teach them not to go anywhere with strangers, not that talking with a stranger is evil.
"The irony is that if your child is ever lost in public, the ability to talk to strangers is actually the single greatest asset he could have." - Gavin de Becker
I encourage my son to talk to strangers that we meet together. While that may sound horrible to you, your children encounter strangers every day. The nurse at the doctor's office who gathers vital health information is a stranger. Your waiter at dinner is a stranger. And the nice old woman who complements your daughter's curly hair is a stranger. Your child’s best teacher was once a stranger.
What we as parents need to do is show our children how to talk with people so they can learn how a good person acts. That way when they see a person who breaks those social norms, they can understand that person is not to be trusted. Don’t deprive your children of a foundation in which to build their ideas about good guys and bad guys.
My son learned his address and phone number in preschool. We quizzed him on it for a while and he did well. Then there were other lessons and topics that steered our conversations. Months later I asked him again to recite his phone number and address. He couldn’t remember it, he’d forgotten. We have to work on this.
Your child being able to recite vital information like their name, address and phone number will be the way police and other adults try to reunite you with your child. If your child can speak confidently to a new person they’ve met and give them what they need to find you; your child can be returned to you much quicker. Make sure they know this information.
Look under clothing racks to find hiding kids.
Lost Child Tip: If you ever lose track of your kid in a department store I have a suggestion. Kids like to hide in the racks of clothing, it’s like a rite of passage or something because I did it too. In this case your child is most likely too short be seen above the clothing racks. That being the case, hit the floor. Look for their legs and shoes below the clothing racks. Once you find them, scold them accordingly.
Kids becoming lost in public is a common occurrence. You probably gave your mom a heart attack or two while growing up. While it’s not fun, it happens. Because it happens you and your children need to be ready for it. Don’t avoid this conversation, make sure your family is on the same page.
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