“Help, I’m Lost!” How to Teach Your Child What to Do If He’s Lost
Festivals, beaches, crowded parks: Summer is the season for getting out and about—which also makes it a great time to teach your young children what to do if they become lost. After all, what works for older children (like establishing a meeting place at an amusement park) doesn’t work for very young children, who can quickly become overwhelmed and frightened if they are separated from you.
“Young children should know what steps to take if they get separated, whether it’s at the grocery store or at the local Kiwanis pancake breakfast,” says Stephanie Kuntz, director of KinderCare Education’s Safety team. “Go over the steps regularly, until your child can repeat them back.”
It’s also critical to teach safety with positivity. In other words, don’t tell her that the world is a big, scary place full of people who might harm her—after all, she may in fact need to rely on strangers for help. The goal is to give her the tools and strategies she’ll need to make smart decisions in what can be a pretty scary situation. “If your child is confident and clear about the steps he needs to take and he knows who might be able to help him, he’ll be able to do the right thing,” says Kuntz.
So what (and how) should you teach her? Take a look:
BEFORE your child ever gets lost:
1. Teach Him Critical Names and Numbers.
If your child is verbal, teach him your first and last name as well as your phone number. (As he gets older, have him memorize your address.) One great memorization technique for young children is to turn the number into a fun song—and even a corresponding dance—that you all can practice together.
2. Do the Duct Tape Thing.
Get into the habit of writing your name, your child’s name, and your phone number on a piece of duct tape with a Sharpie® marker and sticking it to the inside of her jacket, shirt, or shorts—especially if she’s very young or you’ve got a habitual wanderer. Show her where the tape is so she knows it’s there if she gets lost. (This is a great idea to use on any child before heading to, say, a July 4th festival, amusement park, or other crowded area.)
3. Teach Him Who Has Helping Hands in Your Community.
Play the “helping hand” game whenever you’re out and about to teach your child which community members are good helpers. Together, identify people who he might be able to ask for help if he has trouble (whether he’s lost or needs help for any other reason), such as clerks with name tags, people in uniform, people behind a check-out stand, and moms with children.
4. Mark Your Base Camp and Show Her the Lay of the Land.
If you’re at a large gathering, set up your area next to a tree, tie a balloon to your picnic basket, or think of other creative ways to make your spot extra visible. Get in the habit of showing her maps, too, and talking about where things are: Even if she can’t read a map, it helps her begin to understand that she is in a specific place.
WHEN your child is lost:
1. Teach your child to FREEZE, and stay right where he is.
2. Teach your child to shout your name—even “Mom!” or “Dad!” will work. Tell your child, “Shout it big, strong, and loud, and we will come find you!”
3. You should start shouting your child’s name, too! It doesn’t matter where you are, and don’t worry about being polite. With both of you shouting for the other, you’ll likely find that anyone within earshot will be eager to help you both find each other.
4. If you’re in a store or at a large event, have another adult contact management or security while you continue shouting your child’s name and looking for your child.
5. Teach your child to identify people he can safely ask for help: When in doubt, teach your tot to look for another mommy with children because other types of community helpers, such as a store clerk, can be hard for young children to identify.
6. Teach your child to stay right where he is and not to let anyone take him anyplace else.
7. Consider using whistles—another highly effective (and loud) way to find one another!