Picture this: you and the kids are on a family outing to a youth baseball game. Before you enter the ballpark, you put on your mama or papa bear hat and carefully instruct each kid to stay close to you. After handing out the tickets, you corral everyone to the snack stand for a delicious first-inning soft pretzel. As you turn to hand a pretzel to one of your kids, your heart stops in your chest—they’re not there.
Sounds like every parent’s worst nightmare, right? An estimated 460,000 kids go missing in the United States every year, and while losing your kid is frightening for parents, it’s downright terrifying for the missing child themself. When a kiddo loses track of their parent or guardian, they may get overwhelmed and feel some pretty frightening emotions, especially if they don’t know how to be found.
So what should your child do when they get lost? Before you explore a crowded event or head into the forest for a sunset hike, make sure you teach your kiddo what to do if they get separated from you.
Here are six things any missing child should do when they get lost.
1. Take a Deep Breath and Remain Calm
The first thing any missing child should do is slow down and calm their mind. When a child gets lost, it can be overwhelming—and when kids are overwhelmed, their emotions may run wild. This can find reflection in tears, hyperventilation, or (in extreme cases) a panic attack. Letting these extreme emotions take control in a tense situation like this may make it harder for a child to think clearly, so taking a deep breath and remaining calm is absolutely vital.
Some kiddos have a hard time regulating their breath, so try teaching them to count as they breathe. Show them how to count to four while inhaling, take a quick pause, and exhale for four more counts. The physical act of breathing helps calm their body, while the steadiness of counting focuses their attention on the task at hand, ultimately calming their mind.
Once your child has taken a few deep breaths and found some serenity, they should stay where they are. This simple step gives you the chance to retrace your steps and return to where your child is hopefully waiting! If your kiddo leaves this spot to play detective and seek you out, they may end up making themselves more lost.
If your child finds themself in a busy area like a walkway, intersection, or heavily trafficked hiking trail, teach them to step off the path and find the closest safe space where they can calmly wait. Just make sure it’s somewhere visible, where they can hold on and wait until they’re found.
3. Ask an Adult For Help
Sometimes, waiting doesn’t work. If your child has been waiting in the same spot for a while without being found, they should find a trustworthy-looking adult to help them.
Depending on the locale, uniformed adults like security guards and grocery store employees will be able to take your child to a safe place and make an announcement, letting you know that your kid has been found.
However, there’s always a chance that your kiddo won’t be able to find a uniformed adult. If this is the case, encourage them to find a nice-looking parent with children of their own. Other parents will likely understand why your child is overwhelmed, and do everything in their power to keep them safe and let you know where they are.
4. Find a Phone
When it comes to locating a missing child, a cell phone is a parent’s best friend. Teach your kiddo important info like your cell phone number, address, and home phone number (if you have one). Long strings of numbers can be difficult for children to remember, so try creating a song or rhyme that will stick in their brain. After all, studies have shown that kids retain rhymes even better than adults do!
It might be hard for lost children to find a phone—but if they have their own, there’s nothing to worry about. Smartphones make it easy for lost kiddos to contact parents themselves. That’s not all: many age-appropriate devices, such as smartwatches and fit bits, double as GPS trackers. When kids have one of these trusty devices on their wrist or in their pocket, parents are able to find out right where they are the second they go missing. All it takes is a few simple taps.
Don’t have your phone nearby? Don’t worry! Troomi phones arrive preloaded with emergency numbers like 911, ensuring that your children can get help even if you’re unreachable. Click here to learn a bit more!
5. Return to a Designated Meeting Spot
Before you enter a busy place like an amusement park or sporting event, have a family meeting and designate a “missing child meeting spot” before you enter. It could be a hotdog stand, memorable statue, or even the bathroom. With a little pre-planning, you and your child can both know exactly where to go to locate each other.
6. Call Out for a Parent
When all else fails: shout!
If your child is unable to freeze or find you when they get lost, teach them to call out your name. It might be a bit embarrassing, but calling out may get them back to you quicker than other methods. Even if you can’t hear them, calling out informs others around your child that they’re lost, and a good samaritan or two will likely volunteer to help them find you.
Troomi’s GPS Helps You Find Your Missing Child
Losing a child can be frightening and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Teach your kiddo to follow these six steps, and they’ll find their way back to you in no time.
On the other hand, a Troomi phone may help you and your children avoid needing these six steps entirely (although it’s still a good idea to share them, just in case)! Keeping your child in contact with you isn’t the only way that Troomi phones can help reconnect a missing child with their parents—there’s also a GPS. Every Troomi phone features a state-of-the-art GPS system which helps parents know where their kids are, even when they go missing. If a kiddo gets lost, this GPS can mean the difference between staying lost and quickly getting found again.