Do your kids know what to do if they ever get separated from you? Prepare them today with a simple family safety plan–seven simple things your kids NEED to know if they get lost. Today, I had one of the scariest experiences of my life. I lost one of my children…and not just for a few minutes of looking around before finding him happily oblivious to being lost. No, this was almost 30 minutes of having my three-year-old son out of my sight…in a public park that was surrounded by roads and having NO idea where to look for him next.
My story of losing my son at the playground
It started out as a completely normal trip to the library for story time. The theme today was “birds,” and we danced around with egg shakers, and I marveled at how many species of bird he can recognize. We built a train track, and then we picked out some new books to take home with us.
As we were leaving, my son asked if we could PLEASE play at the park for a few minutes. I really wanted to get home, but I’ve been trying to say “yes” more often lately, so I agreed to let him play for ten minutes.
He bounced happily across the street and headed for his favorite park, the one that my kids call “the castle playground” because it has a big castle-like play structure with a giant tunnel slide. I have always had a love-hate relationship with this particular park because the castle makes it really hard to keep track of your child inside the playground, not to mention all the other little nooks and crannies that are perfect for hiding.
It’s a great park for hide-and-seek; it’s NOT a great park for keeping track of your toddler. Still, my boys love it, and as long as I’m careful, we’ve always managed just fine. Until today.
I asked my son what he wanted to do, and–of course–he said he wanted to go in the castle. So, I watched him climb up inside, and then I took the baby around to the other side so I could see him come out of the slide. I parked myself there with the stroller and watched him come out of the slide a few times and head back up.
Shortly thereafter, I realized that it had been a few minutes since I had seen him come out. I watched carefully for a minute to see if he would emerge, and then I started looking around to see if he had wandered off to play on something else. Not a big deal, that’s happened before.
The problem was…I didn’t see him on any of the other play equipment nearby.
Maybe he’s playing up in the castle, I thought. I parked the stroller, picked up baby brother, and climbed up inside to find him.
Now I was starting to get worried. Where could he be? There is another playground a short distance across the park, so I strained my eyes to see if I could pick out his form playing there.
I took several trips around the playground, weaving in and out of play equipment, sure I would find him digging in the bark chips somewhere, totally oblivious to my worry. But after several more minutes, I still could not find him anywhere.
At this point, it had probably been about 15 minutes since I had last seen him, and I was starting to panic. There was a field trip of kids playing at the park, so I started asking the teachers and chaperones if they had seen a little brown-haired boy with a white shirt and blue sweats.
No one had seen him.
Immediately, however, they all offered to start looking. They even got the students involved in checking in all the hard-to-reach places. I was so grateful for the army of people that stepped in to help, but after several more minutes, there was still no sign of him.
All the horrible “what if” scenarios started running through my mind.
What if someone took him?
What if he got hit by a car?
What if…who knows what else?”
I said a prayer, and tried to quiet my increasingly frantic mind. I knew I needed to stay calm and rational. My gut told me he was NOT still in the playground. We would have found him by now if he had been there.
So where WAS he?
I looked around. There were two other playgrounds he could have possibly reached, one of which I had already checked. The other was farther than I thought he would go. Possible, but not likely. I looked at the library we had come from, wondering if there was a chance he could have gone back there, perhaps looking for me. I had dismissed this idea before, thinking he wouldn’t have crossed the street (it’s really more of a one lane road in a parking lot), but since I’d already checked everywhere else outside, I asked one of the teachers to keep him safe until I returned if he happened to show up, and I ran (pushing the stroller all the while) across to the library.
As I walked in, everything seemed to be business as usual, so I was afraid it would be another dead-end. Regardless, I interrupted a librarian to ask if she had seen a small boy come in alone.
“Are you Megan?” she asked.
I felt my whole body turn to jello, as I realized that there was only one reason she would know my first name…Logan had told her. Which meant he was there.
She took me back to the office where two very kind library employees were keeping my son occupied with a lollipop. Our eyes met, and his brave face melted into tears. I scooped him into my arms, and held him tight.
The librarians explained that he had been wandering out in the back parking lot (where we were parked) looking for me. With some effort, they convinced him to come inside and wait with them.
I thanked them profusely, and we headed back to the park to call off the search before heading home.
As I write this, my little guy is sleeping on the couch next to me. He fell asleep on the way home… and I couldn’t bear to have him out of my sight again, so I put him next to me.
And I’m just staring at him–so grateful for his messy bed-head, his smoothie-stained white shirt, and his whole perfectly imperfect little self.
I’m mostly so grateful that I still have him–that the terror of those thirty minutes is past, and that all the worst-case-scenarios turned out to be nothing but a little boy who was sitting in the library sucking on a lollipop.
I am so very blessed.
Thankfully, my story has a happy ending, and I’m not taking that for granted. I know I’m not the only mom to have ever lost her child, but I don’t ever want to feel that kind of terror or helplessness again.
So, I’m making a plan to teach ALL of my kids what to do if they ever get lost in the future.
As I’ve reflected on what happened, I’ve realized where things when wrong…and what went right that brought him back to me safely.
Here are seven things I learned today that my kids NEED to know if they get lost.
What you need to teach your child about getting lost
Teach your child his or her full name
Thankfully, my son was able to tell the librarians his name (and he actually still had the name tag on from story time, so they knew he’d been in the library). It’s important for kids to know their last name, too. The more information they can give a helpful adult, the faster you’ll be likely to be reunited.
Teach your child your name
As early as possible, teach your kids your first and last name. Teach your child that if they get lost, they should call out your REAL name, not “mommy” or “daddy”. This will make it easier for you to hear your child. Also, if they know your name, it helps another adult (the librarians in my situation) to contact you or at least identify you.
Teach your child your phone number
If my son had been able to tell the librarians my phone number, we would have been reunited much more quickly. I was really diligent about teaching my oldest son to memorize my phone number (and he still remembers it almost two years later), but I haven’t spent the time teaching it to Little Brother yet. Teaching him our phone number is now one of my main goals for him in the next month.
Pick a meeting spot
When you go to a public place where your children have any chance of being out of sight for any length of time, always pick a meeting spot.
This is the main thing that went wrong today. I asked my son where he was going to be (on the slide), but I never specifically told him where I was going to be if he needed me. I was only about six feet away from where the slide ends, and I assumed he would see me, but he didn’t. That’s why he wandered off…to look for me. In his worried little mind, it was smart to go somewhere he knew we had been…where we parked our car. However, if we had set a meeting spot beforehand, he wouldn’t have worried and wondered where to look for me (and I wouldn’t have worried either).
So, my new goal is that whenever we are out in public, before we start our activity, I’ll say, “If anybody ever gets separated from the group, let’s meet up HERE.” We’ll be sure to pick a spot that is easy to find, out in the open (safety), and that we can visit and identify before we start to play.
Teach your child to STAY PUT
If for some reason you don’t have a meeting spot at the time your child gets lost, teach your child to STAY PUT. This was the other problem I had with my little guy today. If he had stayed in the park, I would have found him within a few minutes. But he went looking for me, getting more lost in the process.
Teach your kids that if they can’t find you, they need to stay right where they are (assuming they are in a safe place…not a road or something). Tell them YOU will find THEM.
Teach them that it’s okay to yell
Kids need to know that if they are lost, it’s totally acceptable to yell–LOUD–even if they are in a usually quiet space, like a library. When they realize they are lost, teach your child to stand still, and yell your name (your real, full name…not “MOM”) to help you find them faster.
Teach your child to find a mom with kids
Teach your kids that if they still can’t find you after calling out to you, they should look for a mom with kids. Statistically, that’s the safest person to ask, and it’s easy for your child to identify a mom with kids (as opposed to telling them to look for a worker–sometimes it’s had for them to tell what different uniforms or badges mean).
Your child should go up to the mom nearby and say, loud and clear, “I am lost. Can you help me call my mom (or dad)? Her name is _______________ and her phone number is _________________.” If your child doesn’t know your phone number, they can ask the adult to wait with them at your designated meeting spot.
The Moral of the Story
Teach your children. Make a safety plan for your family, and give your kids the tools they will need if they ever get lost. Do it today. Then practice regularly.
I hope no other parent ever has to feel the panic I felt today. That’s the whole reason I decided to share the story at all. I hope someone out there will learn from my experience and be more prepared than I was.
I’ve got my little boys safe and sound at home again. Now, I’ve got to teach him how to stay that way. May all our children stay safe.