Every parent’s worst nightmare
It is every parent and caregiver’s worst nightmare: You’re out and about with your child. One second, they’re in your line of sight; the next, they’ve vanished. Immediately, panic sets in. Alix McNulty, injury prevention coordinator at Advocate Children’s Hospital, provides the following emergency planning and prevention tips that will help keep your child safe and help you locate them fast.
Have a plan of action
When your son or daughter strays away, it’s important they know what to do, who to approach and who to avoid when getting help.
- Remind your child that you would never purposely leave them. Emphasize they stay calm in the event you get separated. It’s important they know not to look for you on their own; doing so can lead them even further away from safety.
- Seek trusted help. If you’re at the beach or the pool, for example, ensure your child can identify a lifeguard. Advise them to seek help from these trained individuals in the event they get lost. If at a shopping mall or store, let older kids know to look for a security guard or a person behind a cash register; most retail locations have a missing-child action plan (called a Code Adam) to help reunite families. For little ones, differentiating between workers and other shoppers can be a challenge. It is recommended that when lost, they sit on the floor and call out your name until help arrives.
- Ask a “mommy” for assistance. Statistics show that women with kids are less likely to be predators. “Mommies” are also more likely to stay with your youngster and comfort them until they are able to find you again.
- In crowded venues, give your son or daughter the option to ride in a stroller or hold your hand. For teens, instruct that they stay close and remain no more than a few steps away. It’s important for children, no matter the age, to walk in front at all times. This will allow you to keep watch and prevent them from getting lost in the bustle of a crowd.
- Know who to avoid. Ensure your son or daughter knows to never approach or get in a vehicle with strangers. They should also be cautious of any adult asking for their help when you’re not around; predators often use these tactics to lure in lost, confused, well-meaning children.
What to do before heading out
Use these tips to deter predators and lessen the chance of abduction:
- Dress them in bright colors. This will make them easier to spot in a crowd and provide a better description of their appearance. Bright colors also attract attention and are more likely to ward off predators. Be sure to mark strollers with vibrant bows, ribbons or flowers. This will lessen the possibility of strollers getting mixed up.
- Write your number down on a piece of paper, a lanyard or on their shoelace. In a moment of panic and confusion, it may be difficult for your child to recall your number. Having it in their pocket or on a shoe will provide comfort and help those assisting be able to find you faster.
- Take a picture of them before leaving the house. In the event that they get lost, a picture will aid security in finding your son or daughter and will prevent the added stress of being unable to remember details of their outfit.
Where are they?
Remain calm and follow these next steps to find your missing child:
- Take a careful look around and call out their name. Chances are your kid has not gotten that far and may be just a few feet away. If you are near a swimming pool, fountain or any other body of water, immediately check there first.
- Alert personnel of the situation, especially if your child has gone missing at any of the above-stated locations. Quickly seek out an employee, lifeguard or security to assist. If the situation allows, send a family member or friend in your place so as to not miss your child in case they return.
- Call the police if you cannot find your child within five to 10 minutes. If you have any inkling that your child has been abducted, experts say to follow that gut instinct. Do not wait to speak up; it is better to get additional, professional help than to waste even a minute.
“It is so easy for little ones — and sometimes even older kids — to get distracted,” says McNulty. “The smallest things can grab their attention. And while it may seem tempting to think ‘this will never happen to my kid’, having a plan of action can make all the difference.”
Following the above tips can not only help prevent your little one from going missing, it can also put you at ease knowing that if worst comes to worst, they are prepared. And so are you.
About the Author
Efua Richardson, health enews contributor, is a senior at Lewis University studying public relations & advertising. In the future, she hopes to work in entertainment, namely in the music industry. In her free time, she enjoys reading, scrolling through Instagram and trying new ethnic dishes. Among her talents is the ability to move her kneecaps in tune to music and wiggle her nose.