My kids ask me all the time to take them to playgrounds or any other public place. I can not help to think that the risk involved in this is greater than we are often aware of. I have four kids, which makes the task of keeping track of everyone very stressful. To me, taking my children to a public place is not "a walk in the park" anymore. Actually, I feel that I am a little traumatized. My 8 year old son, (a very active little guy), has been lost 3 times in public places. Once in a huge department store at the age of 3, another time in a natural park where he took off in his bicycle by himself at the age of 4 and the last time in a crowd public fair at the age of 5. Fortunately he has always been found save and sound.
Small children are very unpredictable. Their logic is very different from ours. They tend to forget the importance of staying close to you and they get distracted very easily.
How many times have you taken your kids to a playground and suddenly you do not see them anymore, you start looking for them and your heart starting pounding. Luckily you finally see them playing away unaware of the panic attack you just had. It all happens in seconds but it looks like an eternity until you finally see your precious children again. But for how many parents is this not the case? How many of them never find their child who was just next to them a minute ago? Who had just been seen playing in the playground a second ago?
What can we do as parents to prevent such a tragedy from happening to our family? The best thing we can do is to be prepared and to take certain simple precautions and do our best to prevent this terrible thing from happening.
Each and every time time you go to a public place with small children take these 10 tips in consideration:
1. Remind them of the importance of staying close to you and always to inform you to where they are going. This may sound very simple but the best way not to loose your children is to have them close to you at all times.
2. Teach them the importance of keeping a safe distance with you. If they can not see you, they are not in a safe distance anymore.
3. Choose a meeting place that you know they can remember in case they do get lost. If the children are too small, it might be a better idea to tell them to stay in the place where they realized they were lost. Most of the time you are not too far away from them. But if they start looking for you, it makes it a lot more difficult to find them.
4. If you are in a mall or a department store, identify the staff's uniform and security guard's uniform with your children. Ask them to look for them if they happen to feel lost.
5. Teach them not to talk to strangers. It is unfortunate that we need to teach our children to avoid talking to strangers, but the truth is, with today's world, it's not safe anymore to let your children talk freely to a stranger.
6. If your children are old enough to memorize phone numbers, go through the basic family information such as the home phone number, your cell phone number and your address. Also, give them some change in case they need to call you from a pay phone.
7. Memorize the clothing they are wearing. If it makes it easier for you, put on similar colors in all of your children. During a panic attack you feel confused enough to even forget what your child is wearing.
8. Place a card in one of their pockets with all of the basic information: Your name, your child's name, phone number, cell phone numbers and address. Even if the child is able to memorize this information he / she will panic as well and they could forget it all. Do not place this information in a visible spot as an abductor could take advantage of this to create a familiar atmosphere calling the child by his own name. Also it's important to avoid any piece of clothing containing your child's name.
9. Choose books from the library that teach kids why it's so important not to talk to strangers and after you have finished reading, take some time to discuss the content with your children. You could ask them questions to make sure they understand the message. You can also play the "what if" game and let them figure out what to do in a certain imaginary dangerous situation.
10. Last but not least, talk to them about the dangers that a small child has these days. Unfortunately, we have to give our children some tools to defend themselves in the case of an attempt of abduction. They should know what to do so that they can act quickly. They should not converse with any stranger. If the stranger exists in talking with them, they should leave immediately and ignore the person. They should not volunteer to give any information or directions to a stranger. They should also know about the tricks abductors use to attract a child. They could use a cute puppy, or ask them to find a lost puppy. They could use delicious candy or appealing toys. They could appear to be very friendly or they could even look like adorable grandmothers.
During the first time my son got lost in the department store, I kept thinking of all the things we should have done to prevent this from happening. When he was finally found I thought this would be the first and the last time this would ever happen. I was so scared by the idea of losing my child again that I did very little to prepare him for a similar incident. When it happened the second time, I realized the importance of having a plan in place. I also realized that fear does not take you anywhere. You need to act before it's too late. Once your child is lost, he is on his own. If he has not been prepared to face this situation, the only hope you will have is to trust in his own ability to find you. Nothing can guarantee that our children will not get lost. But if at least your child has a way to help himself when you can not help him. This could pretty well be his life.