This summer we went to Disney World again, and spent a great deal of time in the Baby Care Centers, which happen to be right next to the lost child centers. Frog liked spending some time in the air conditioned areas of the Baby Care Center while waiting for me and Monkey. He also noticed a lot of lost children while we were in there. In fact, the two children remained in the lost children area for so long that they were still there when we revisited the Baby Care Center a second time– their “Big People” still hadn’t shown up to take them home! Frog and I talked about these two lost children, and were were a little surprised at how unprepared families were with dealing with getting lost. Maybe it’s the Den Mother in me (yes, didn’t you know that I’ve been Frog’s den leader since his first year in Cub Scouts?), but from my perspective, teaching your child how to handle getting lost is a critical skill. We have covered this repeatedly in Frog’s den, and it has been very beneficial. He knows what to do when he gets lost.
When Frog was in first grade, we went to a hockey game, just me and Frog. It was a mommy-son special evening. The arena was very crowded. Lots of people were there. We went to get snacks before the game started, and we weren’t alone. It seemed like the entire arena decided to get nachos and a Coke at that moment. After getting the food, I paused to look for the correct entrance for our seats, and apparently Frog didn’t stop. I turned back to give him some further directions, and he was gone. Completely gone! I scanned the crowd and I couldn’t see him anywhere. My heart dropped into my stomach, and my stomach dropped to the floor. Panic started to set in. I walked quickly back to the concession stand we just left, but no Frog. I walked back to where I just left, and saw no Frog. I walked 100 feet forward, no Frog. I then decided to scan the crowd for security, and just as I found someone, my cell phone rang.
I didn’t recognize the number on the screen.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hi there, is this the mother of Frog?” A cheerful female voice said on the other end.
“Yes, it is.” I replied.
“Well, I have Frog here by entrance 1A who said that you and he got separated. He gave me your number and asked if I would call you to come get him.”
“I”ll be right there!” Relief washed over it. Suddenly, I was smiling from ear to ear. My first grader had taken care of the problem, and gotten found, quickly and with little fuss. I was so proud. When we were reunited, I told Frog how proud I was of him, and he said, “I started to get afraid, and then I remembered what I needed to do. I did just like we practiced, and you came right away to get me.”
Since then, Frog and I have gotten separated on a few occasions, and guess what, I don’t panic. Frog doesn’t panic, and within 5 minutes, we are reunited. I wanted to tell you about my 10 tips for successfully getting lost and found in any setting, big or small. I feel strongly that any child 4 or older and can be taught how to handle getting lost. You’ll need to modify these a bit for your itty-bitty, and if you have a 3-year-old who runs away in public, I’m not sure all of these will work for you!
10 Tips For Your Child to Get Found Quickly When Lost in Public:
#1 Memorize Cell Phone Numbers. Any child who is 5 or older should know at least one parent’s cell phone number. Make him practice it. Knowing a home phone number when you are out in public isn’t quite as effective. I taught Frog my cell phone number before kindergarten. I made him recite it repeatedly AND had him practice calling me. Combining the practice with repeating the number helped make sure the number stuck in his head. If your child is in first grade or higher, make sure that s/he knows at least 2 numbers. Sometimes you can’t answer that first number, and she will need to know a back up number. Frog knows his grandmother’s number because she’s usually not with us, but can help reach out to find other people if he needs to get a hold of anyone.
Parents don’t seem to emphasize learning phone numbers much anymore since we have smart phones, but your children need to know your number. It’s critical, and they need to know the number that you can be reached most frequently. When I was the den leader of Tiger scouts, the youngest Cub Scouts, I had several mothers tell me that their 6-year-olds knew their home phone numbers. When I asked if that was the number where the child could reach his mother during the day, the mother invariably said no. Reduce the barriers and challenges for your children, make sure your child knows the best “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) numbers.
#2 Write it down. If you have a preschooler, or you are worried that your school-aged child might forget your number in an emergency, write it down, on them. I would suggest their arm, not their hand, and if using a sharpie, write it down before you smear them with sunscreen. Sharpies don’t write well on top of sunscreen. I always carry a sharpie, and if I need Frog to remember a number other than mine, it gets written on his arm, Yes, he knows 4 “ICE” numbers now, but when he went to WDW for the evening with his aunt, I wrote down her number on his arm, using a sharpie marker. Her number wasn’t one he had memorized, and she would be the contact person if he got lost. This is your back-up plan to your memorized number. If you are worried that your 6-year-old will forget your family’s primary ICE number, write it down!
There are even these really cool things called Safety Tats, have you seen them? They are great in case you have a younger kiddo who might forget the number. AND if your child is going someplace without you, and another number might be better than the child’s ICE number, Safety Tats even has “Write On Tats!” I had these for Frog when he was 4 to 5, and I didn’t entirely trust his memory. (It’s always good to have a back up plan!)
#3 Have a Plan: Every time we go anywhere that getting lost could be a big problem, like an amusement park, or a sporting event, we review our “Getting Lost Plan.” Frog rolls his eyes now because he knows our plan by heart. That’s fine, it’s meant to be redundant. Our “Getting Lost Plan” is: Stop as soon as you realize you are lost, find a mom, tell her you are lost, and call Mommy. Then we review all of the back up variations. He knows the drill, and Frog can tell me what he’d do in each situation.
#4 Stop, Don’t Search: This is something that I took from the cub scouts, getting lost in the wood lessons, but it applies for most urban jungles. When a child realizes s/he is lost, it’s best for them to not search for their parents. It’s much safer and better for the child to stay put. I have always taught Frog that as soon as he realizes that he is lost, his job is to stop looking for me. Adults are better at scanning and searching that are children (well, in general!) Plus, it never works if both parties are searching. Now, there is an exception to this– if the police/security move him, then he should go.
#5 Find a Mommy: The second thing that he’s supposed to do after stopping and staying put is to find the nearest mommy. Most moms are helpers. Most moms know how horrible it is for a child to get lost. Most moms will let you use their cell phone. Knowing these odds, I started teaching Frog when he was a preschooler that he should always ask a mom for help. There’s another more sinister reason– statistically, creepers are men. If Frog looks for a woman with children, the chances of the woman randomly being a creeper is very small.
Now, I was teaching this once is cub scouts, and someone asked me why I didn’t recommend that a child look for an employee of the venue first. Here’s why: They can be harder to find and identify than mommies. When you have a little child, it is easier to teach them to look for a woman, who looks like a mommy than it is to find someone who works at that specific location. My goal is for my child to get help quickly and to be safe. The odds are in his favor if he asks for help from a mommy.
#6 Ask for help first! I have taught my children to never assume that unrequested help is safe. This is cynical and sad, but I have told Frog to ask for help and get help from the person that he identifies. I have specifically told him NOT to accept help from strangers, particularly men, that he did not approach first. Again, I’m going for the best statistical odds for my child– it is extremely unlikely that the mommy that Frog randomly asks for help from is a creeper. The odds aren’t as favorable if a strange man approaches Frog and offers to help.
(Dear Dads, y’all are great group of men, and I know the vast majority of men out there are the wonderful, kind, non-creepy sorts, but I’m trying to keep my kiddo safe. I want my child to get found safely as quickly as possible, thus, I’m stacking the odds in his favor!)
#7 Stay Calm: Tell your child that getting lost happens all of the time, and as long as he knows what to do and follows the plan, there is no reason to panic. If you kiddo gets separated from you, you don’t want it to be the trauma that ruins the entire vacation. Remind them to relax and trust that you will find them and to stick to your plan. Remind them to stay calm!
#8 Yell if Something Feels Wrong: Again, to avoid any trouble with creepers out there, remind your child that if anything feels wrong that they can always yell and say, “I need help.” This is always another back-up plan– screaming and asking for help, will keep the creepers away and get the appropriate personnel to your kiddo more quickly. (I know this might seem to be a paradox with tip #7, but I mean it to be another back up plan. If you child feels unsafe, they should know what to do: Stop and Scream!)
#9 Teach the Child the Critical Facts: It is really helpful if your child can give their helpers useful information when they get lost. For example, your 4-year-old needs to know your first and last name. When someone asks your daughter, you don’t want her to say that your name is “My Mommy.” Your child needs to know your first and last name, and how to spell it. Your child should know their birthday, address, and any other critical information, like allergies. If you have a school-aged child, I would suggest that they know the first and last names of the adults that are in the group, and be able to spell them.
#10 Practice: Dealing with getting lost should be like a fire drill. Practice scenarios. Come up with solutions. Take your child somewhere and have them get lost and get found. This will make you feel so much better when they do get lost.
Well those are my 10 tips… I promise that we’ve used them on more than one occasion. I don’t worry so much about him when I know that we’ve covered all of the bases for dealing with getting lost. Do you have any tips I missed?
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