Have you ever been out in a crowded place, turned around for just a second, and then realized that you had no idea where your child was?
Words can’t adequately describe the emotions that hit you like a freight train and leave you shaken to the core. We experienced those feelings last week while on vacation at the NJ shore town of Wildwood.
There were 10 of us walking down the boardwalk together…my family of 5, our friends and their two kids, and my sister who came down just for the day. The boardwalk was crowded and full of distractions, and as we walked we decided to make a detour into a pizzeria for a quick bite to eat.
We strolled inside and made our way to one of the larger tables and began to sit down. As a parent of 3 little ones who can take off without warning, I’ve trained myself to do a quick visual scan every couple of minutes to make sure no one is missing. I must do it 200 times a day.
1, 2, 3.
1…2……………ok, there’s number 3. Whew!
Well as we began to sit down for a few slices of pizza I did a quick scan…and this time I came up one short.
My three were all accounted for but our friend’s 4 year old daughter Lauren was missing.
My sister stayed inside to watch the kids and the rest of us ran outside and split up in different directions. I searched through the arcade next door hoping she got distracted by the games and wandered inside. No luck.
I headed back to the front of the restaurant to regroup and started scanning the crowd until I saw Lauren’s mom headed toward me…with Lauren safely in tow.
Fortunately we got lucky and no harm came to Lauren or anyone else. But she was missing for about 10 minutes, and let me tell you the thoughts going through our heads were not pleasant.
As we belatedly sat down to enjoy our pizza, the adults laid down some rules to keep the kids safe at the boardwalk and at other events in the future.
Tips to Keep Kids Safe in Public Places
1. Discuss what could happen to your kids if they get lost. You don’t need to go into lurid detail, but this isn’t the time for sugarcoating either. They need to understand that there are bad people in the world who can hurt them or take them away from their mommy and daddy. A little fear is good.
2. Right before you go out, take a picture of the kids with your cell phone. If the worst happens and one goes missing, you might be so upset that you can’t remember what they were wearing. Having a picture handy will help you provide a description to searchers.
3. Choose a landmark to meet at in case anyone gets separated. On the boardwalk we told our little ones to go straight to the carousel if they got lost. They could see it from anywhere on the pier and we would all meet there together. This gives them an idea of what to do so they don’t panic.
4. Specify which adult is watching which child. Don’t just assume that your spouse is watching the kids…he or she may be assuming you are keeping an eye on them. If you have more than one it’s helpful to actually decide who is responsible for who on that particular night.