Inside: What to teach your children to do if they get lost. Kids get lost, but these tips may help you find them quicker.
My youngest got lost at Disneyland.
It was a terrifying few minutes, but a situation we had prepared him for. And thank goodness we had. He knew what to do and we found him safely in just minutes.
Good parents lose kids. Good kids get lost.
We got off a ride and wires got crossed. Between three kids, packed crowds, trying to find the stroller we’d parked somewhere else, and navigating the Disney App on my phone, we zigged and he zagged. He’s five. This happens.
By the time we realized it, he was nowhere in sight. I left my husband with our other two kids to stay where we last saw him and to alert park employees.
I went sprinting, screaming his name and a description of him. I shouted to every employee I saw that my son, age 5, was lost. I gave a brief clothing description as I ran.
Again, loudly shouting.
When our kids go missing, be loud. Be very loud. Every person in that stretch of the park was looking for him because I was so loud.
“I know where he is!”
Someone in their early 20s, having heard me, ran to my side. I couldn’t even pick this person out of a line up. I never saw their face fully, I just heard the words they shouted:
“I know where he is!”
That person grabbed my arm and shoved me behind them through a crowd to where my son was sitting on a bench next to a park employee.
We hugged and hugged and hugged.
I sat down with the two of them, and thanked the park employee, Debbie, profusely. She told me, “He did great! He walked right up to me and said, ‘I’m Matt and I’m lost.'” Way to go buddy. Just like we’ve always practiced.
As we walked away, I asked Matt about being lost. He said, “Once I saw Debbie, I knew I wasn’t lost anymore.”
What I taught my children to do if they get lost.
My son knowing what to do in that moment did not happen by accident. It happened from conversation after conversation with my kids throughout their lives on exactly what to do.
From about age 2 and continuing to this day (my oldest is nearly 9), we talk about what to do if they get separated from us – we keep it light, we keep it casual, we aren’t trying to scare them. But we are trying to prepare them to act in this moment of unexpected independence.
Because kids get lost…these things happen… even to parents who run websites and publishes a parenting book (wink).
I instilled in my kids three things to do once they realize they are lost:
A wandering child is the hardest child to find. I have impressed this on my kids. I can find them easier if they stop and sit down, or stand and wait.
Once they realize they’ve gotten separated, they need to freeze.
From where they are sitting or have stopped, my children know to ask an adult with children for help.
Why an adult with children? Kids might have a harder time talking to an adult who is alone, but one who has children with them… they can identify with that group/family.
There is an air of familiarity and safety.
Of course other adults without children can be super helpful too (I’ve sat with plenty of lost kids all by myself!), but this distinction gives my kids someone specific to look for rather than trying to guess who will be nice and help.
Again, this is nothing against people without children. This is just an easy way to make a distinction on who to talk to when lost.
Additionally, if you are somewhere with very distinct employees, like Disneyland, make sure your children know who these safe people are and how to identify them. But there isn’t always an employee around (like at a fair or zoo), so I focus more on adult with children in our day to day outings.
It’s easy for kids (AND adults) to get nervous and embarrassed when lost.
Letting people know is a huge part of getting found. Saying “I’m lost!!” will help you get help even faster.
PARENTS: You need to be loud too.
I know quite literally how it feels and how embarrassing it can seem to lose your child. But like I said above, we must mobilize and get assistance fast. Good parents get separated from kids. This is not an indictment on your parenting skills.
LOUDLY explaining the situation will help your child be reunited with you quicker.
Shouting their name, that they’re lost, and a description as you LOUDLY look for them is important. In seconds, I had dozens of people keeping their eye out for a lost child.
And had I been quietly looking for him, the person who ultimately helped reconnect us may have walked right by me not knowing that I went with the lost child they had seen.
Start these conversations TODAY.
Take the time today to talk with your kids about what to do if they get separated from you.
I began these conversations at age 2. In child friendly terms, I told them the plan. “Stop moving. Look for a family. Say I’m lost.”
As they got older, I added more nuances to those conversations, but even in the early days, I wanted to make sure they had some sort of idea for what to do.
Talk before big events.
Talk at the dinner table.
Go over this vital information.
We had our son back in minutes partly because he knew what to do. It was no mistake he found that park employee and no mistake that he knew what to say to them. This was done through intentional parenting.
I replay those minutes in my head…
Because being separated from your child is terrifying. My son was vigilant the rest of our Disneyland adventure about always having a hand on someone.
But he has maintained over and over that once he realized he was lost, he was “found” within seconds thanks to Debbie. It just took a little bit for me to find him.