When word came out that the Camerons had accidentally left their eldest daughter Nancy alone in a country pub, rather than condemnation the confession elicited widespread sympathy and cries of “it could happen to anyone.”
Because even the most assiduous of parents – including those with a security team, numerous personal assistants and curious strangers watching their every move – can turn their backs for a second to find a child has done a vanishing trick.
Whether disappearing among the aisles in the supermarket, ambling off to admire someone else’s sandcastles on the beach or – like Nancy – going on a trip to the toilet without reporting their intentions, kids can be only to easy to “lose”.
But in the event that your little one does get separated from you in a moment of distraction, does he or she know what to do to… or is panic and scream the place down their only mode of defence?
Here’s our guide to what to tell your kids in the (hopefully unlikely) event that they get lost:
Don’t frighten the children
Of course you have to instil a certain sense of danger in your kids and the understanding that they ought not to go wandering off or chatting to strangers. But be careful about frightening your children and therefore inhibiting their interest and interaction with the wider world. Arming them with some simple knowhow will help them feel more confident – and hopefully easier to find should they get separated from the group.
Teach them the basics
Your child should be taught their full name, address and a telephone number (perhaps these days a mobile is more useful than a landline) as soon as possible. If they can memorise that info they can provide other adults with the details needed to reunite them with you ASAP.
[Related article: Child Safety Week: Do your children know about safety in the home?]
Safer strangers, safer buildings
The Children’s Safety Education Foundation has devised a simple code to help kids look for a “safer stranger” who can help them if they get lost.
A safer stranger is “a person who is working at their job, which helps people”, such as a police officer, community support officer, traffic warden, shopkeeper or checkout assistant.
If your child cannot find a “safer stranger” outside, teach them to find a “safer building” such as a bank, post office, library, supermarket or medical centre to ask for help.
For full details see Childs Eye Media where there is a video to help children understand what to do and info for parents to help their little ones with the ‘code’.
Always arrange a meeting point
Whenever you are out and about, always set a meeting point should you become accidentally separated from one another.
In a shopping mall for instance, it may be the central fountain, or a local landmark on the high street.
In department stores show your child where customer services is so they know where to go if they get lost – and show them the uniform of the staff working there.
At beaches and theme parks always check where the lost children meeting point is in advance.
[Related article: 10 questions parents dread from their children (and how to answer them)]
Dress ‘em up
It may sound silly but if you’re heading on a big day out to a busy place, consider dressing your child in an eye-catching colour – and adding a name tag sewn inside their coat or cardigan to help them to be easily identified. You might even add your mobile number to that tag.
Take their photo
It can’t hurt to take a snap of your little one at the start of the day, on your mobile phone, so that should you become separated you have an immediate visual reference to show others when you are searching for them.
Buy an ID tag
There are ID cards and tags that you can buy which allow you to write on important information, such as your child’s name and a contact number. Some can be affixed to clothes or bags; others are capsules on necklaces or wristbands.
Teach them the 3-step plan
- Stop, stand still and tall (“like a tree trunk” is good advice) and look around you – your Mum or Dad may be able to retrace their steps quickly and find you if you stay where you are. Call their names as loudly as you can.
- If you can see your parents, go back to them straight away. If you can’t see them after a while try to find a ‘safe stranger’ – a uniformed person or, perhaps, a woman with children (women with children are statistically “safer”) and tell them you are lost.
- If you can’t find a trusted person find a ‘safe’ building and go there to ask for help.
When lost in nature…
Teach your child to stay in the closest safe place to where they realised they were lost, and wait for help. They need to know that you will look for them.
Tell them it’s OK to yell when frightened
Teach your child that if they feel threatened it’s OK to kick and yell to get other people’s attention, and to run from the situation to the nearest safe stranger or safe place.
And as for you… don’t panic
If your child has disappeared, try to keep calm. Depending on where you are, locate a member of staff or a person in authority as quickly as possible. They may have clear procedures in place to deal with finding lost children. And don’t wander too far from where you last saw your child: if there is more than one of you, let one adult stay put while the other goes for help.