This is one of the scariest things a parent can imagine. A child can disappear in a flash in a shopping centre, cinema, playground or other public area. This is every parent’s nightmare, and we even try to suppress this fear deep down in our brain.
But we need to prepare our child for such an event!
Children 5 years or older are more receptive to safety information, but experts agree that we should also talk with our youngest about safety.
Toddlers should always be accompanied outside, but they still need clear information on what to do if they become separated from their parents in public.
However, it is not easy to know how to talk about this topic with a young child. First of all, we have to suspend all our fears because we need to talk calmly about safety with our child. We should positively encourage our child, instead of scaring them with things that can hurt them.
Try to talk with your children from time to time about safety, and find the best moments for that. For example, you can ask your child in a crowded shopping centre what should he do if you two get somehow separated. Then you can suggest some simple steps.
But the message always needs to be there: ‘If we get separated, I will find you; just follow the safety steps and stay calm!’.
The biggest fear – the ‘bad stranger’:
The main school of thought says ‘never go with strangers’, but young children can understand a stranger as a ‘scary’ or ‘bad’ person; therefore, someone who is friendly and nice may not be seen as a threat by them. For this reason, we need to try to be as clear as possible about this.
And instead of ‘don’t talk to strangers’, we should teach them ‘never to go with a stranger without asking your parents’ permission’. This is clear and easy to understand, even for young children.
But what if you get separated in a public place:
This can happen in a crowded place, shopping centre, amusement park or cinema with an energetic child and, of course, it can be one of the scariest things for both the parents and child.
It is very important to be prepared for that. Hopefully, you won’t ever need to use the knowledge, but these simple steps can help you to help your child feel protected.
- Stay where you are:
You should teach your child to stay where he is at the point when you became separated. It is easier for you to find him, instead of you both moving about. If the child stays put instead of running in from one place to another and becoming more lost, it helps to the parents to locate the child.
- Teach your child your real name:
Try as soon as possible to teach your child your full name. We should repeat this information over and over again to help them remember it.
For example, if your child is simply shouting ‘Mama’ in a crowded shopping centre, it can be difficult to distinguish his voice among those of other children who are calling for their mother.
Some parents worry about encouraging children to yell for help, as it can make them an easy target for ‘bad strangers’. But the truth is that such people look for the children who are not drawing attention. A child calling for his mother is too much trouble.
- Teach your child to ask another mother for help:
If your child becomes separated from you and is yelling your name without success, the next step is to ask for help. This is another reason why it’s not convenient to teach them to not to talk to strangers.
For young children, we should teach them to turn for help to another mother with children. Older children can turn to police officers, but smaller children can’t yet distinguish uniforms from darker clothing. So, the safest choice for a young child is to approach another mother with children.
So the basic teaching for your child in case of being lost: stay where they are, call your name and then ask for help from another mother with children.
- Having the information:
Once he has got help, it is important that the child knows the names and phone number of his parents. For a small child, you can teach him this information in a song; in this way they remember better.
But even if the child knows the information, he can be too scared to remember or tell it, so the safest solution is to have the information written somewhere in a practical way, such as a label in a shoe, clothing, jacket, etc. Or get some safety jewellery for your child, like a bracelet or necklace with your phone number, a sticker or cute ID card, which can be bought in the market. You can find some links below.
These are very simple but useful steps in case of emergency that are easy for everyone to learn. The best is if you practice these steps with your child at home or in a safe public place to make sure he remembers. You can pretend you get separated and let your child work on the steps, staying where he is and calling your name. You can even involve a friend, so your child can practice asking for help from another mother. Once your child has completed the practice, be sure to congratulate him for following the instructions, or talk through calmly what went wrong and how to do it properly.
We will hopefully never have to use these steps, but it is always best to be prepared, just in case.
Other useful stuff:
– Phone number bracelets, wristbands or necklaces:
– GPS tracking and Bluetooth safety devices: