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No matter the time of year, families are always on the go. Between holidays, school, social activities, sports practices, errands, and work, each day is filled with a multitude of to-dos. As a parent, you probably take your children with you to run errands, or maybe your child is out with a friend’s family or babysitter. No matter who they’re with, a visit to a strange place creates risks. Have you prepared your child for what to do if they get lost in an unfamiliar place? 

You might take the familiarity of a grocery store for granted, but would your child know where to meet you if they got separated? Would they know who to ask for help? This quick guide will run through how to prepare your child for a scenario exactly like this one!  

Use this guide to teach your child what to do if they get lost, who to ask for help, and how to be proactive until they are reunited with their parent, guardian or caretaker.  

How to Prepare for the Conversation

Talking to your child about getting lost can be an uncomfortable or even scary conversation. This can be even more difficult with young children because until about age 7, most children aren’t aware of real-life dangers, like being separated from you in an unfamiliar place. 

To help the conversation go smoother, start by gathering some visual materials to have on hand. This will help your child visualize what you’re talking about. Here are some recommended materials: 

-A picture of a cash register 

-A picture of a store associate with a nametag on 

-A picture of people in uniform (firemen, policemen, paramedics, security officer) 

-A picture of senior citizens  

-A picture of a mother and child 

-Pictures of public places where they might frequent (ex: grocery store, mall, park, restaurant, airport, train station, etc…) 

-A laminated, pocket-sized sheet with important names and numbers 

Once you’ve gathered your materials, pick somewhere comfortable where you know your child will feel safe to have the conversation. It’s important to keep a positive tone throughout the talk. The goal isn’t to scare them, but rather educate and prepare them.  

What to talk about: 

Important Names and Numbers 

It might not be something you think about, but does your child know your real name? If your child gets lost it is important that they know your real name so they can call it out or tell someone else to help them.  

For young children who might lose a sheet of paper, write your full name, relationship with the child, and phone number on a piece of duct tape and stick it to a piece of your child’s clothing that they will be wearing that day. 

Slightly older children who might be headed to school, activities, or be more responsible with holding onto a piece of paper, print and laminate all important names and numbers on a pocket-sized piece of paper. This will be great for your child, or someone helping them, to reference. Include your full name, relationship with the child, important phone numbers (such as 911), as well as other caretakers.  

If your child is old enough, consider getting them a mobile phone with basic call functions. Preload all important names and numbers into their contacts list on the device.  

Safe People to Ask for Help From 

This is where those visual materials are going to come in handy! Run through who in your community would be a safe option to ask for help and connect them to the location they might be in. Great options are sales associates with name tags, mothers with a child, senior citizens (grandmas and grandpas), and people in uniform. 

Here are some examples of what you could say to your child: 

“If you’re at the grocery store with [mom/dad] and you get separated from us look for someone with a nametag and ask them for help.” Then show your child the picture of a grocery store and a store associate with a name tag.  

“If you’re at the park and get separated from [mom/dad] look for another mom with their child or a grandma/grandpa and ask them for help.” Then show them the pictures of a park and the people you referenced.  

Run through these examples for all the places your child frequently visits.  

Safety Plans 

Before even leaving the house with your child, be sure to create and talk through your safety plan. Your safety plan should include the following:

-Making sure they have some form of important names and numbers on their person and know where they are. 

-Pick a meeting spot should they get separated (ex: a cash register at any store is a great choice!) 

-Ask them to tell you what they will do if they get separated. 

-Run through “what if scenarios,” on a regular basis but especially before you leave the house.

If your child is going somewhere with another adult, make sure that you know what their safety plan is and walk through it with your child. Even better, teach your child to ask other adults that they are going out with for a safety plan!  

Also, consider giving your child a whistle to blow so you can easily hear them if they get separated. 

What Your Child Should Do If They Get Lost 

If your child gets lost, here are the steps you should tell them to take immediately 

lost child

1. FREEZE and stop where you are!

2. Start shouting your parent’s real name and blow whistle.

3. Locate a safe place to stand.

-If outside, make sure to stand away from the street and cars.
-If inside, go to designated “safe spot” that was set in the safety plan (should be close by).
-If no “safe spot” was designated make sure they’re in a well-lit area and stay put.

4. Identify someone safe to ask for help (senior citizens, moms with kids, sales associates with a nametag, or uniform personnel) and show them your important numbers sheet.

5. Do not let anyone take you anywhere else!

What You Should Do If Your Child Gets Lost 

Having your child go missing can be incredibly stressful and scary. The most important thing is to try to stay calm. Start by identifying how your child got lost. Here are some examples of how a child might go missing. 

If your child is missing from home: 

  1. Call out their name and express that you are not mad, but they need to make themselves visible immediately.
  2. Check all common areas where they might be hiding (cabinets, closet, car, dryer, under the bed, etc…).
  3. If you cannot find your child, issue a Guardian alert.
  4. If both you and Guardian volunteers cannot locate your child, contact your local law enforcement agency.
  5. Call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678. They work directly with local law enforcement to help recover your child.

If your child goes missing in public:  

  1. Start shouting your child’s name and listen for your name or a whistle.
  2. Go to the designated meeting spot you set in your safety plan.
  3. If your child is not at designated meeting spot, notify a store associate, security officer or anyone else in management.
  4. Issue a Guardian alert and ask surrounding individuals to help you look.
  5. Continue searching the surrounding area for your child while shouting their name.
  6. If both you and Guardian volunteers cannot locate your child, contact your local law enforcement agency.
  7. Call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678. They work directly with local law enforcement to help recover your child.

The Final Step

Proactivity is the best form of prevention. By using this guide both you and your child should feel more prepared for if the worst happens, and they do get lost.

The final thing to do is keep running through “what if” scenarios, regularly revisit steps to take if they get lost, and most importantly remind your child how much you love them and that no matter what happens you will be there for them.

happy family