Most of us can remember getting lost, even if just for a very short time, as children. It’s an incredibly frightening feeling to suddenly lose sight of your parents or guardians but thankfully (for both child and parent) in most cases the experience is short-lived and children usually learn a very valuable lesson when this happens.
But it’s still useful to give your child some pointers about what to do if they do find themselves lost, particularly in unfamiliar surroundings, as well as refreshing your own knowledge on how to keep your children as safe as possible when out and about.
Here are some tips and advice:
Talking to children about getting lost
It’s important not to overstate the potential dangers involved in your child getting lost. In the same way that it’s vital for children to be aware of stranger danger, it’s also useful for your child to know that getting lost isn’t an ideal situation, but parents should be careful about frightening their children and inhibiting their interest and interaction with the wider world around them.
Don’t make your child feel that there are dangers lurking on every street corner, waiting to pounce on lost children. But arming your child with some basic knowledge will help them feel more confident and self-assured should they find themselves separated from you or a group when out and about.
The basics your child should know
It’s a great idea for you to teach your child their full name, address and phone number as soon as possible. If they are able to memorize these details they’ll be able to provide other adults with information that can help them be reunited with their parent or carer as quickly as possible.
It’s also vital your child knows where to go for help should they become lost. They should ask for help from a police officer, another grown-up with children or someone working at a nearby shop. It’s important for children to make the distinction between a potentially dangerous stranger and for instance a ‘safe’ stranger, such as another mum with children.
Tips for when you’re out and about
Many of the tips below are common sense measures that are second-nature to most parents, but there may be other things you don’t currently do that you may find useful to know. Certain tips are especially useful if you’re visiting somewhere unfamiliar, or an exceptionally busy place.
Here is a definitive list of tips to help prevent your child getting lost:
- Always keep your children within your sight, or under the supervision of another trusted adult,
- Arrange a meeting point which your child should go to if they get lost. safe place like customers service desk at the supermarket. It’s helpful if they can identify a particular store’s staff uniform too, so they can find help quickly.
- When visiting very busy places, such as theme parks or beaches, be sure you know where the lost children meeting point is and the procedure employed for dealing with lost children.
- If you’re going on a big day out to somewhere unfamiliar you might prefer to dress your child in bright, easily recognizable clothing, perhaps with a name tag sewn inside. This can provide a key identifier if your child gets lost. You could also take a photo on your mobile of your children before you leave so you have a visual reference to show others, and remind yourself of what your child is wearing – it’s quite common for parents to go blank when asked what their child is wearing.
- Consider using an ID tag or similar, particularly if your child can’t yet speak or has special needs and may find it difficult to communicate key information such as their name and address to others. The ID should be visible and easily accessible and should include significant information such as your child’s name and a contact number, both for you and perhaps another next of kin so if your mobile is out of credit or network range another adult can be contacted.
- Be especially vigilant in places that provide a quick getaway for potential abductors, such as motorway service stations – keep your children close to you at all times and never let them go to the loo or visit the shops or amusement arcades by themselves. The same goes for airports – with so much going on such as checking in luggage, or rifling around for passports, it’s easy for parents to become distracted and lose sight of their children.
What to do if you get lost – a child’s 3-step plan
1. Stop, stand still and look around you. Mum or dad may be able to quickly retrace their steps and come and find you if you remain where you are.
2. If you can see mum or dad, go back to them straight away. If you can’t see them after a while try and find another ‘safe’ adult and tell them you are lost.
3. If you get lost on the street, try to find a policeman/police lady or another ‘safe’ adult. If you can’t find a trusted person, find a ‘safe’ building and go there to ask for help.
What parents should do if they lose a child
1. Try to keep calm and not panic. You may forget vital information such as what your child is wearing which can help locate them more quickly.
2. Don’t wander too far from where you last saw your child. Perhaps if you have another adult with you they can go and have a look around while you stay put – quite often children may not have strayed too far and may be able to see you. Try to keep an ear out for any tannoy announcements, too. If you’re in a department store, for example, you may hear an announcement that your child has been found.
4. Always go with your instincts and never feel that you are wasting peoples’ time. Alert the police as necessary – no one will mind if you then find your child safe and sound but you may lose precious time if you haven’t called on more extensive help quickly if your child does not reappear.
You’ll probably experience a mixture of relief and anger when your lost child is reunited with you. But it’s vital that you don’t get cross with your child about getting lost – they will probably be feeling very frightened and quite aware of the seriousness of what has happened so don’t add to their trauma by shouting at them. In some cases the child may not have a proper handle on what has happened – they may think it was you who was lost – but try to explain, when everything has calmed down, that they must try not to get lost again, reminding them of the drill in case they forgot what to do when they became lost.