As you would most probably have read, I have suffered the anguish of losing a child in a public place. No thanks to Ayd while we were at LEGOLAND Malaysia (Read all about it HERE). And for the time that we remained separated, those 15 minutes were the longest minutes of my life and I swore then that it was never to be repeated.
That said, shit really do happen sometimes. More so when we least expect it. So here are a few safety rules to follow when travelling with kids.
1. Discuss crowd safety early and often
As soon as a child is old enough to walk around on his/her own, he/she is old enough to start learning about how to stay safe. Have a talk with your child about safety and the possibility of getting lost. Make a rule that you and your child stay together at all times while at the park.
2. Teach your child important information
Make sure your little ones know their full name, their mom and dad’s names, and phone numbers. Practice fun ways to remember this information and rehearse when you are traveling.
Also, make it clear that your child should not follow or ask a stranger for help. Even though that elderly woman or man may look friendly, this is not always the case. Instead, tell them to look for someone in a "security uniform" for help always. Else, they could ask an adult who is accompanied by children too.
3. Formulate a plan if someone should get lost
The usual plan would be to find a place to designate as your 'meeting spot' if someone from the group is separated. But while that may work for older kids, younger kids (aged 8 and below) might find it a challenge to find their bearings. Alternatively, you can instruct your kids to stop and stay still if they get separated. If they are not reunited with their family after several minutes, they should find a staff member and tell them they are lost.
4. Dress your child in bright-colored clothes
If you have more than one child, have all of your kids wear identical bright coloured tees. You will be amazed how other people will help you herd your village because of the identical tops.
5. Take a picture of your children before entering a crowded place
That way you will have a current photo of them and be able to show it to the staff member in case one of them gets lost. To be honest, I used to think that this is utterly redundant. But after having gone through the act of losing Ayd, I can tell you that in the panic of the moment, I can barely even tell the staff member my own name.
6. Write your mobile phone number on a sticker and fix it to your children's clothes
Use a masking tape to write the appropriate information and tape it to the insides of their pockets, or just simply slip a piece of paper with the information into the pockets.
7. Designate roles
One of the reason why Ayd was lost at LEGOLAND Malaysia was because the wifey and I thought the other was watching out for him. And in the end, he didn't manage to catch up when the whole entourage proceeded to a new area.
8. Have a buddy system
If there is a huge group of kids, ask the older kids to keep an eye on the younger ones. The more eyes and hands you have on the job, the safer everyone will be.
And if your child do get lost, here are some tips.
1. Don't panic
I know, it is easier said than done but panicking will make it worse. Staying calm and collected will help you to think clearly. So repeat after me - DO NOT PANIC.
2. Stay in the same area for a few minutes
Often your child is not far from you at all and will see you and hear you calling and come right back to you.
3. Find the nearest employee or security officer
Ask for help, even the people around you as well. Officials, staff members and police officers are trained and ready to help you find your missing child. Cooperate and follow their instructions.
4. Give a complete description of your child
Give the security staff a detailed description of your child - age, height, weight, clothing, shoes, etc. Show them a current photo, if available. Tell them where you were before she got lost.
5. Check the Lost & Found center
Lost children are usually taken by the staff to a designated 'lost child' area. That’s where your child will most likely be taken if found.
According to a statistic I found online, nearly 30% of all families that visit theme parks each year lose their child. I don't have the stats for those lost at a shopping mall or event but I am sure the figures would be similar, if not higher.
Most children are almost certainly found after some time, but the trauma of getting lost may stay with your child - or the parents - for a long time. That’s why it is imperative to prepare yourself and your family for the scenario.
Stay safe, everyone!