Missing Child Statistics in our country are alarming. So much that they can freak any parent out. While the official numbers are much less, it is believed that 500,000 children go missing every year. It is an epidemic which nobody wants to confront. A nightmare and worst case scenario for parents but also the one every parent must prepare their child for.
Much like we teach our children about body safety and stranger danger, we must teach our children to stay safe in case they get lost. Daily we see numerous social media and WhatsApp messages about missing children and yet somehow we believe it happens only with the underprivileged or lower sections of the society. While the reality is that it can happen with any child, anywhere. Malls, fairs, railway stations are the common places where we often loose sight of our children for a few seconds. These times our children must know how to get themselves back to their parents and should follow a structured well-taught plan.
Step 1: Children must know their parent’s phone numbers and real names. This is a must. Make them memorize your real names (full names) and phone numbers. For younger children, write your number on their palm with a permanent marker before you visit a crowded place or a mall. You can also write your number on the inside of their shoes and tell them where to look if at all they get lost. Or slip the information written on a paper inside their pockets. Whatever works for you.
Step 2: Teach them to call you out with your real name and not as ‘Mommy/Daddy’. People are more likely to notice when they hear someone being called out by name. Also it helps their cries distinguish from other children’s call for their parents if they are calling out your real name.
Step 3: If they loose your sight, children must stay put and not run around in an attempt to find you. Tell them that they must not move from that place and you will look for them instead. In most cases, children are within 50m of their parents. First few seconds when you realize your child is not with you are critical. So they must be taught to stay where they are.
Step 4: Coach them how to seek help safely. Teach your child to identify safe strangers. That means looking for a woman with children. In case they can’t see any woman, they can ask for help from a woman who wears a name tag or a security guard. But this needs to be done while staying at their place and calling out for help. When they catch attention, they need to identify the safe stranger.
Step 5: Another important rule every child must remember is that never go anywhere even with a safe stranger. Teach your child to ask them for help by calling you at their location and not leaving that place to find you.
Step 6: This is of utmost importance. We may teach children all the rules but the actual situation can be very different and nerve wrecking. So make all this all a part of a game. Pretend play is a great idea to demonstrate such situations. It also gives you an opportunity to explore the thought process of your child in such situations. Ask them what they think they should have done not to get lost or how they can you find them again if there is no help. Acting out different scenarios will prepare you both to handle a situation.
Of course we all wish and try our best that we never end up in these situations. But it always better to be proactive and equip your child with a right plan.
Reading about safety or make believe stories also help. Do not try to instill fear for the situation but rather aim at building awareness around it. Just explain your children that there are some places where you might loose their sight or get separated from each other. Such situations need them to act according to the plan and not get scared.