When Kids Get Lost


My 4-year-old is friendly and outgoing. He talks to everyone and wants to see everything when we are out in public. I’ve nearly lost him twice while shopping. What do I do?

It’s too bad that it is so important today to teach kids to protect themselves and be careful who they talk with, but it is. That’s reality. If your son wanders off and is alone, he is vulnerable. You two need a plan of action. He needs to know exactly what to do if he is separated from you in public.

Teach him not to look for you, but to go to the nearest checkout counter or person behind a cash register and ask that clerk, “Do you work here?” If the answer is yes, he should say, “Please help me. I am lost.” Be sure he knows his name and your full name, so they can page you. (Some kids think their parents’ names are “Mom” and “Dad.”)

Take him to a small store where you are well known, and explain to the store manager or clerk what you are trying to teach your son. Then practice the plan in the store. Try it several times, perhaps in other stores before they get crowded, keeping an eye on him to be sure he follows the plan.

Tell children to never go out to the parking lot to look for you or the car. Tell them to stay in the store where there are lots of people, and ask the store clerk to help them find mom or dad.

If you are at a park or crowded event, such as a festival, similar rules apply. Teach your child not to wander around looking for you, but to stay put. The “safe adult” in this case would be a mother with kids. Make sure he understands to stay in the public area where there are plenty of people until you get there.

Older children should be told to never go near a car with strangers in it — even if they are friendly and are asking directions. Children should know their names, addresses, phone numbers and how to call you long-distance.

So that the plan doesn’t frighten your child unnecessarily, play “what if” games to help them think through what they would do in an emergency. Play games to help them remember colors of cars and license plate numbers.

But the first thing is to teach them what to do. Having a plan will help you both feel more secure shopping together.

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