June 21, 2009

Lost and found

"The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears." --Ellen Goodman

Twice this week, I lost Funny Girl. Both times she just walked away from me, and both times it was incredibly crowded.

Here was my thought process both times. First I was pretty calm. I realized she was missing, I did a full 360 search for her a couple of times and called out her name. After about a minute, I realized this was a little more serious. I walked around a bit, still calling her name but never really leaving the place I saw her last in case she came back. Luckily, both times I was with other adults, so I then enlisted their help and Robotson's, in finding her. Another minute goes by and I find the nearest person who is working and can potentially call in additional help. Unfortunately, both times I got very little help on that front. The woman at the aquarium asked me how long she'd been missing first, then said she's help me but after I gave her a very accurate description of FG, she proceeded to point out several children that were obviously not lost. The woman at the mall food court didn't even speak English, so that was a problem. Simultaneously as I am talking to this third party, I begin to worry about how easy it would be to just scoop her up and walk out the nearest exit with her. The good news is I'm pretty sure she would scream and her high-pitch would definitely bring attention. And both times, no more than four or five minutes passes before she turns up again. At the aquarium, she wandered into a boat and sat down on the floor in protest because she was upset with me. Robotson found her. At the mall, she had gone around a toy machine and then the carousel caught her eye, so she headed for that. She was walking back up an aisle, crying because she realized she was lost, when we found her.

Up to this point, the girls have never left my side, but FG is gaining independence. It seems to be the right time to start talking about what to do when lost, or when someone you don't know asks you to come with them. It's also the time to start talking about secrets--the kinds you do and don't keep. I've been dreading this conversation for a while, but I knew it was coming. She's too young to understand all the details now, but both of my girls will have to be a little more vigilant about safety because there is a predator in our family. He's been cut off from us, but it's always possible we'll see him somewhere. He knows enough about us that it would be easy to convince an unsuspecting child to go with him. Too early, I'm going to have to show them a picture of this man and explain that they can't trust him for any reason. Ever.

These two incidents have been pretty minor, but I've been evaluating my responses. I'm pretty proud of myself for not losing my head. Realistically, it's not that likely that someone will grab her. Then it's just a matter of staying visible, calling out, and enlisting help in finding her. Something else I've been thinking about doing is snapping a quick picture when we are going to be out in a crowd. I've got a camera phone. It only takes a second, just in case.

So here are some questions. Have you ever lost track of your child? How long were they missing and how did you find them? Got any tips for keeping up with them better or finding them again after they slip away? At what age do you think little ones are able to understand how to handle being lost? Around what age do you think you can give kids more freedom to be out of sight?

I started to let Robotson have more freedom at seven. He has proven several times he knows what to do when we are separated. Last year, we lost him at the aquarium. He made his way to someone who worked there and they took him to the information desk where they called our cell phones. I've lost him in stores and crowds too. He gets worried, but always keeps his head and asks the appropriate person for help.


  1. I wrote a big and thought out comment and then it was swallowed by blogger. Grrr... I found the older post on my blog on this topic - http://teachingyoungchildren.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/should-we-teach-our-toddlers-stranger-awareness/. So far my daughter has never been lost, but, of course, I only have one, so I keep an eye on her at all times.

  2. I'm glad to have found your blog via the Evolved Homeschooler!

    We are just starting to allow our oldest, at 5.5 years, a little more leash. Playing on the big playground out of eyesight, that kind of thing. Whenever we're somewhere we might be separated, we use a set of Motorola handheld radios. He gets one, one of the adults gets the other. And they are always on. We put them on a lanyard and he keeps his around his neck at all times. He enjoys the freedom; I enjoy being able to find him in a moment's notice.

  3. Raising a Happy Child- I think you brought up a very good point. I don't want me kids to stop talking to strangers, but they need to know what information is ok to give out and what you can't do with strangers (like get into their car as you said). My kids will tell anyone that looks at them their name, siblings names, all of the ages - including mine, they also invite everyone they meet over to our house. In addition to this being tedious when I want to grocery shop, it's not exactly information I want everyone to have. Even still, I'm less worried about strangers and tend to look closer at people we know generally that I'm not sure about.

    Beta- that's an idea! I sometimes call out to mine in hopes that they will answer. My son never would, but the girls generally do answer back.

  4. My daughter tends to be shy about people she meets, so you'd sort of have to drag information out of her (we're working on it). IMO, "don't talk with strangers" is an inane and counter productive rule. I want my child to feel secure to ask for help if necessary. It's better to teach them specifics like "don't walk away with a stranger if they ask you to", "ask someone with a tag (working in a store) for help", "ask another mommy", etc. But please, don't instill a general stranger fear and mistrust - there is no reason for it (check the stats)!

    We spend a lot of time at a book store and I've started going with her over what to do if she gets separated (she'll be 5 this fall, knows my phone number, but tends to stick with us when we're out). We've actually practiced getting separated - e.g. her taking the stairs while I take the elevator (I imagine it's against the store's rules) and meeting up at the next floor. It was a big step for both of us, but I think it will make it easier on her if she ever gets separated for real.

    BTW, I don't think there is a hard age guideline about when to loosen the strings. It'll differ from child to child (and parent to parent). I let my daughter take the lead on what she feels comfortable with (I suspect our 2nd one will be much more reckless and I'll have to veto more often) but I encourage them both to stretch her wings.

  5. It's always a difficult path to tread -- teaching your kids to be savvy without teaching them fear. My 5 year old knows that if he gets separated from us to stop, try and reach us on the radio and give us visual landmarks, and to go to someone in a uniform. Police, security guard, flight attendant, Burger King worker. Whoever. But someone who is obviously at work and not just some idle passerby.

    We've also taught him to never be silent just because someone tells him so. We don't want to teach him to fear others, but we want to keep him safe. Luckily, most of the time when we go out we've got two very alert parents, so we can each of us devote 100% per child.

  6. My five year old son got lost in a Hobby Lobby store. We've never really talked specifically about it prior to this event, but he calmly went up to an employee, told him he couldn't find us, and they paged us. We were so proud of him (and quite worried wandering around looking for him) that we use it as the example of proper behavior when lost to this day.

    I also think there is another side to this equation. As responsible parents who want our children to be safe, we have a responsibility towards kids we see are clearly lost. I can't just pass by an out of place child and NOT help. I never ask the child to go with me anyplace, but if the child tells me they don't know where their parents are, I find someone, somewhere to help me find that lost parent. Recently it was as simple as sitting with the child and getting a park attendant to call the child's parent on their cell phone.

    And I ALWAYS take a picture of my children when we go to a crowded place. Think aquarium, festival or park. Why not use that camera phone feature?

  7. Stepan-I agree 100%. Stranger danger doesn't even make sense. We like strangers, we just don't go anywhere with them :) My kids have never met a stranger anyway. They talk to anyone and everyone.

    It's so much easier to lose one when you are have three to watch. I remember thinking we I got pregnant the third time that we were really in for it now. I was right :)

    Michael- I do that too. I couldn't walk past a child that seemed lost. And I often look after kids that don't seem lost, but have no visible parent either.