Now that you’ve had a day to help out families at the border, let’s talk about what to do to keep your own child from being separated from you. This is not fun to think about, but I’ll tell you a few, easy things that can keep your kids safe and decrease your stress level. Then, plan to do something to de-stress!
The moment will live in my mind forever. I was home with Rosie who was 3.5 and Mimi who was 18 months. Rosie was happily playing in the living room in a shaft of golden sunshine as I went into the next room to change Mimi’s diaper. Maybe 2 minutes later, I walked back into the living room to find Rosie gone.
At first, I didn’t worry too much. She was into hiding at that time, but we had talked about coming out if I said, “Rosie, mommy is scared, please tell me where you are.” and she was really good about it. I tried that line. Nothing. I started to search all the rooms in the house (it was a tiny house so this didn’t take long). Nothing. I went outside to the patio, checked around the back of the house and the front yard – all of which were fenced. Nothing.
That’s when the panic hit. Visions of child abductors luring my precious little girl away from the house starting flipping through my mind. The storyline of The Lovely Bones came roaring into my thoughts (if you’re a mom and you haven’t read this, DON’T READ IT FOR THE LOVE OF ***, mom nightmares for years). I started yelling her name in the side yard and then on our sidewalk in front of the house, which was on a busy street.
4 lifetimes 5 minutes after realizing she was gone, our neighbor heard me yelling and came out of their house with her. Rosie had wandered over to play and told them I knew she was there, so they didn’t know I was looking for her.
I hugged her and explained that I was crying because I had been so afraid she was lost. We talked about why it’s important to tell a parent when she wants to leave the house for anything. And I poured myself a very large glass of wine.
If you haven’t had something like this happen, or been in a store and turned around to find your child not where you left them, or lost sight of them at a park, chances are, it could happen to you soon. The hardest part of parenting for me has always been that part of my heart now lives in a separate, autonomous person that I only have so much control over.
However! There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening to you. And if/when it does – here’s what you should do in that moment.
1. Talk it out
I highly recommend you read this separate blog post by Mari Eugenia called “10 things Your Child Should Know to Be Safe From Predators“. Fortunately, kids become more mobile and independent and therefore at more risk around the same time you can start to talk to them. As soon as you can – usually around age 2.5 or so – start talking to them about strangers. You can use language they understand, some families talk about a “yucky person” or a “tricky person” instead of saying “stranger”. Keep it simple and relevant. Talk about it when you’re going to places where it applies – like a park or crowded public place so it makes sense.
As they get older and more mature, be more specific. Unfortunately, child predators are smarter now and will introduce themselves and say they’re a “friend”. You may have seen stories on social media about adults trying to lure children away from public places by telling them they have a puppy or a kitten or a spaceship to show them. We teach about this by role playing. I’ll say “Rosie, what if a nice man you didn’t know came up to you at the park and said, ‘Hey! Want to see my brand new cute puppies??’, what would you say?”. Giving them examples and showing them how to respond makes it much more likely they’ll do the safe thing (go straight to their parent or guardian!!) in the moment.
Teach them to scream and kick and bite and fight if a stranger physically grabs them. If this happens to them as a joke – someone sneaks up and grabs them at a party for example – never punish them for reacting strongly, even if they hurt the adult. Same goes for if a well-meaning family friend or relative tries to hold them down and tickle them or play in a way they don’t find comfortable – never make them “use nice manners” in these situations – it only makes them more vulnerable. Encourage that firm, loud and physical response (and maybe explain to your friends you’re doing this so they know better than to scare your kid.)
2. Label Up
If you know you’re going to a fair, amusement park or other crowded event, do a little prep ahead of time. You can order customized temporary tattoos with your phone number to stick on your kid in case they wander off. In a pinch – just write it with a Sharpie Marker on their arm. Dress them in a color that’s easy to spot. Don’t put their name – a predator can use that information to seem like a “friend”.
3. Location Tracking
If you have a kid who you know is a wanderer – or if you just want to be extra safe – invest in a GPS tracker. No, I’m not talking about a chip implant (though I would do that in a hot minute if anyone would let me!). A portable device can quickly pinpoint your child’s location for you and also offer additional safety features. Two of the top recommended ones on SafeWise are the hereO 2 GPS tracker and the My Buddy Tag Bluetooth Wristband. Check out their full reviews here. They range from $30 to $200 depending on features. Some have “listen in” capabilities or 2 way calling as well as alerts if the device is removed from the child.
If/when you do find yourself at that moment of realizing your kid is gone, have the following game plan:
- Take a deep breath and do a rapid but thorough look around you, 360 degrees.
- If you don’t see your kiddo, start calling their name in a loud, but happy voice (you don’t want to scare them into running away more!). If you’ve practiced, use the “I’m scared, please come out” line. Give this about 3-4 name-calls, or 20-30 seconds.
- If they still haven’t surfaced, start looking for anyone in a position of authority as you say in a loud voice to the next closest person to you, “Help!! I’ve lost my xxx year old son/daughter. They have [color] hair and are wearing a [color] shirt. Please help!”. Telling someone specific, individually this puts them into action, rather than letting them stay a “bystander”. As soon as other people are on board helping, look up the tracker info if you have one on your kid and have authorities or security make a bigger announcement with specific description of the child.
Giving this specific information to people and having it spread is the fastest way to get the information out to a crowd. If your kid has wandered off, someone is likely to spot them and get them back to safety. On the scary flips-side, if someone is trying to lead your kid away, they will be spooked by people looking for the specifically described kid and abandon the pursuit so they aren’t caught.
Are you potentially going to look like a crazy person for nothing? Yes. Is that more important than your kid’s safety? Nope. Embrace the crazy, that’s what parenting is all about!!
May you be safe and protected. May you be healthy in body and in mind. May you be happy. May you live at ease and with peace. – Lovingkindness meditation.
And may you never have to get to step 3!! Deep breath. Glass of wine. Tune in tomorrow for a much happier post on best drugstore cosmetics loved by the L2L crew.
Dr. Annie is a married mom of 2 and family physician in the Sacramento Area.