I still remember the sheer panic running through the local fair at night looking for my little brother who was missing. Now as a parent, I can’t imagine the fear and terror of searching for your child in a massive crowd of 100,000.
We were at the state fair during the summer and every night with big entertainment acts like Garth Brooks or Fleetwood Mac in town, the crowds were humongous. You had to push your way through people and me, only being about four feet tall felt like I was in some sort of obstacle course trying to push through crowds.
Somewhere between walking from the stock show area and towards the rollercoasters on the opposite side of the fairgrounds, my younger brother had slipped away. His hand no longer held onto the stroller where my baby sister was buckled and the space next to me where he was moments ago, was filled with air. Just air.
My Mom stopped and started spinning in circles calling his name, her head swiveling side to side. Her eyes were as big as saucers and her voice was panicked with urgency.
At first she appeared calm, her eyes scanning the crowd thinking he stepped away to watch a balloon artist or juggler. But as the seconds ticked past, it was clear he was not anywhere near us. I watched as she left me standing with the stroller and start running around, screaming his name.
I was eight years old and he was six, and what must have been an act of sheer desperation, she sent me into the crowd looking for him too. I saw her grab the stroller and took off jostling it in another direction before I turned and bolted to the stables where the cows and horses were and then zigzagged to the rollercoasters running as fast as I could and swinging my head left and right hoping to spot him.
I remember the scene as a child, but it comes back to me now as a parent because each minute of not knowing where your child is and if they’re safe is my worst nightmare.
Fair security couldn’t find my brother. People hadn’t seen him. He didn’t respond to the loud speaker announcement. It felt like he disappeared with the snap of a finger.
This one moment has stuck with me more as a parent now than it did as a child and every time we head out somewhere where there are crowds, I always prep myself and the kids for a possible scenario of being separated.
This isn’t just a case of being negligent and losing a child because you’re not paying attention or looking at your phone. This can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
If you’re in a busy place with endless distractions and go to grab a water bottle from your backpack, your child may get bumped two steps away from you. They spin around and just like that, immediately feel disoriented and start looking for you, only this time, they head in the wrong direction. These 6 seconds are enough to lose a child and it’s not because you did anything wrong. It’s because unexpected things happen.
When I found my Mom, we walked around together scouring the booths and attractions. An hour later we found him sitting on a police motorcycle in the local law enforcement area. I had only seen a mother drop to her knees and weep holding her child in the movies, but this happened to me in real life.
So if this you’re ever in this situation – if you turn around and your child is no longer with you, these tips will help you reconnect quickly.
We visit busy places everyday – the mall, sporting events, amusement park, museum, shows, festivals and seasonal evens – are you ready?
1) SNAP A PICTURE OF YOUR KIDS
Before you head anywhere, take a picture of your kids. This isn’t for memorabilia, although that’s nice, it’s to identify the clothes your kids are wearing in case you are separated.
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to misidentify or forget what the top your daughter was wearing looks like. Was it red or pink, did it have polka dots or hearts? Panic often blurs your train of thought but when you have a picture this is helpful for others, security and law enforcement who are helping you find a missing child.
2) TALK ABOUT WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOU GO
Having a discussion and run through a couple role playing scenarios with your kids about what to do if you become separated. Do this before you go and when you’re on your way so the conversation is fresh in everyone’s mind.
Talk about where to go (pick a spot when you get there), who to ask for help and the steps to getting assistance if either of you find yourself apart.
3) DESIGNATE A MEET UP SPOT
Once you arrive at your destination, carefully pick a meet up spot if you’re ever separated from one another. Hammer this detail home. Say it, repeat it, role play and quiz everyone in your group.
Find a distinctive feature like a statue, water fountain, something with bright lights that is appealing to your child. Something with distinction will stand out much more than a bench or booth which may be found all over the place and cause more confusion.
4) IDENTIFYING ITEMS
Teaching your children your full name and phone number is a basic safety rule, but little kids are too small to remember this information. Instead, put identifying objects on your children to take the guess work out of remembering your phone number and identification information.
Bracelet / Necklace
String together bracelets and necklaces at home with your name and phone number or just your phone number.
I have a bag in the car with these stretchy bracelets so I never forget to throw them on the kids when we’re somewhere busy.
These velcro ID wrist bands with fill in the blank cards are also a good bracelet option and a little tougher to pull off.
Buy a pack of sticker sealed paper wrist bands – you know, the colorful ones you get when you go to an amusement park or ticketed event. Write your name, phone number and any other identifying information on it. Once you’re back home, these can be easily cut off and throw away.
Whether you use a sharpie on your kids (I don’t recommend because of the toxity of sharpies but if this is all you have, do it) or have a set of pre-made temporary tattoos, put something on your child that will not easily come off.
We use temporary tattoos and put it on their stomach under their shirt on the underside of their arm where it won’t rub off if they wash their hands or get wet. I bought these sheets and made a bunch to keep in the house and in our car kit.
We tried the band aid application a couple years ago but the kids complained about it hurting when it dried and caused cracking on their skin. We’ve since moved to temporary tattoos and they work great.
Military Dog Tag Necklace
Another wearable option is buying military style dog tag necklaces with your name and phone number and throwing them on when you’re someplace busy. You can buy these custom made online or you can head to your local pet supply store and get a couple made quickly.
Tuck your business card – or have an information card made – in the pocket of your child’s shorts or pants. This is easy for them to pull out and hand to an adult if they need help finding you.
Ever since my kids were in preschool and because they easily lose things, clothing labels is a great way to keep track of your belongings. Washable labels are also a great way to include a name and contact information on the tag or inside of a shirt or sweater.
Washable clothing labels make it through the washer without coming off and last for dozens of washes so even if you forget to put some sort of identification on your child, their label will always have this information.
5) FINDING HELP WITH SAFE PEOPLE
If your child is separated from you, you don’t want them to be afraid of approaching a stranger for help but rather, teach about safe strangers.
A safe stranger may be a person in uniform such as police officer, security, firefighter or crossing guard. My children know to look for another Mom who has something that identifies her as a Mom like children, stroller, diaper bag.
I know most people think they’ll never lose sight of their children – but these situations happen fast and unexpectedly. You reach down to pick up a dropped snack or turn around to watch one child the other can quickly move out of eyesight. These things happen but if you prepare, even if they never do, you’ll be more quickly reunited with your child and they’ll know how to handle such an event because they’re prepared as well.
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