When Amanda Atkinson was a child, getting lost seemed a part of every family outing. “My mother really believed that I would get lost on purpose in order to get cookies from the security guards at stores,” she remembers. “But I was simply a wanderer and my attention would stray.” Now a mother of three boys (six-year-old twins and a nine-year-old), Atkinson has nipped that adventuring gene in the bud. “I used to use a walkie talkie system, but I found the boys would actually try to get away from me to use them. Now I have a little game I play, similar to Marco Polo in the pool. Every now and then I call to them. The first one to answer (usually the one who’s closest), earns five minutes on their PlayStation. They count how many points they get and now they not only stay near me, but they have also learned how to multiply by five.” “It’s been 30 years since my ‘wandering’ days, but I still remember the anxiety I felt when I realized I didn’t know where my mom was,” she says. “I can recall that panic now when the boys aren’t at my side. I don’t want them to have those memories.”
The Center to Prevent Lost Children (CPLC) states that although lost-child memories may not seem to be as destructive as physical harm, the memories are indelible. Losing track of kids is common. In fact, according to the CPLC, over 2,000 kids get lost every day. Ninety percent of families will experience it at least once. Why don’t we hear more about this from our friends and family? It’s likely they are embarrassed to admit they’ve lost track of their child.
Let’s face it; it’s a great probability that you and your child will be separated at some point during their growing years. It’s better to be prepared than to live in denial that it could happen.
Under no circumstances should you scold a ‘found’ child. Being reunited is a cause for celebration, and if you do punish a child for wandering, you might find he will be wary about being found the next time. Gently, but firmly reinforce the rules. Praise that he remembered to implement any of your safety procedures and then give him a big hug.
The stay-safe strategy
Plan your wardrobe. Wear something your child can easily spot if they are scanning a crowd.
Carry a recent photo of your child.
You might want to take a digital picture before going to a busy amusement park if you don’t have a recent picture with you.
Tell kids to ask another mommy for help.
Finding another mom with their children in tow is a fairly safe way for your child to find help. It’s much easier for children to locate and identify another mommy than a security guard or employee.
Prepare contact information.
Give your child your cell phone number and, perhaps, his own cell phone. You may consider putting your contact information on a USB (worn on a necklace), which can be read by any computer. Or perhaps applying a temporary tattoo with your phone
Rehearse your family’s safety plan
Go over the safety plan before leaving for your outing and remind your children again when you reach your destination.
What to Do Immediately
If your child does get lost, try to remain calm. Do not move too far away from the spot where you were last together. More than likely your child is still nearby. If you sense that this is more than just a temporary loss, quickly find an employee to trigger the venue’s lost-child process. Most shopping malls, amusement parks and attractions have procedures in place and are experienced in handling the situation.
Lost in the Woods
Before you go, teach your children how to ensure being found if lost in the woods.
Tape off your safe zone
Upon reaching your campsite, use brightly coloured forestry tape to mark off a clearly visible perimeter. Tell your children not to go beyond the taped area without an adult.
Give them protection
Hypothermia is the number one worry for people lost in the woods.There are many types of compact windbreakers and plastic sheets that fit into pouches; these can easily be slipped into a pocket or a backpack. The low-budget version is a large, orange garbage bag, which provides an instant portable tent. (Poke a hole in the bag so the child can see out and get air.)
Provide a whistle with instructions to blow three times if they need help (and only then – tell them, ‘no crying wolf’).
Tuck some high-calorie foods, such as dried fruit or candy, into their pockets or backpack.
Teach your children to find an open area and stay in one place
Assure them that if they do get lost, people will be coming to find them, and as difficult as it may be, they shouldn’t panic. Help is on the way.
Search and Rescue Society of British Columbia advises parents to teach children the following:
• Stay in an open place.
• Stay warm by buttoning up your jacket.
• Cover your head.
• Build a survival bed of leaves and tree boughs. PC