Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Advice: Lost Children

It is every parents worst nightmare...You are out on a family trip and you suddenly cannot find one or more of your children.  I am having a slight anxiety attack now just writing about it, and remembering an incident we had while travelling in Venice, Italy.

We were merely out and about for the day, exploring the canals and bridges.  I had charge of the stroller and our (then) 5 year old son.  My husband had charge of our (then) 3 year old daughter.  We came to cross one of the famous bridges in Venice (whose name I can't remember at the moment), crammed with tourists and covered in shops.

I headed over with the stroller and my son, not noticing that my husband had stopped to take a photo.  Our daughter, unable to keep up with me through the bustling crowd, and not wanting to stop with Daddy, got separated.  A few minutes later, as we had stopped for a rest, my husband caught up.  It was then that we realized our daughter was missing.  I thought he'd had her, he thought that she had gone off with me.  It had only been a few minutes, but with a bustling crowd of thousands (and deep water on every side), that seemed like an impossible eternity.

Panic time.  My husband stayed with the stroller and our son, and I ran off, back across the bridge, retracing our steps, and yelling my daughter's name.  Thankfully, after a few minutes of frantic searching, I found her, crying.

Problem solved, but proof that it doesn't take much for a child to become lost.  They may get distracted, you may get distracted, little Johnny may decided to play hide-and-seek without telling you.  So what should you do if this happens to you?

Well, here are some tips I've learned, and received from other travel savvy parents.

1.  It helps to "assign" children to a parent (if you have more than one), so that you know sooner if someone is missing.

2.  If you find your child is missing, take a few minutes to look around you or retrace your steps to make sure they haven't fallen behind or simply stopped to look at something.

3.  Whatever you do DON'T panic.  I know impossible to do, but panic can interfere with you ability to think straight.

4.  Don't waste more than a few minutes searching on your own.  If you can't find them in the first five minutes, assume that another 5 minutes or another hour isn't going to help.  Find the professionals fast!

5.  Know how to contact the emergency services or police in the area you are travelling.  Remember not every area uses 911, so learn the appropriate phone numbers.

6.  Carry a current photograph of your child in case the professionals need it.  Having a baby photo of your 8 year old isn't going to help the police, and don't count on your child's passport photo, as they are often outdated.

7.  For older children, and other adults, arrange a meeting place in case you should become separated.  Use your hotel, a famous landmark, or a local police station.  This way if the lost person is found, they can inform the professionals about where they should meet you.

8.  Make sure your children (if they are old enough), know the following information (and to only give it to the police in case of emergency):
     * Their full name
     * Their birthdate
     * Where you are staying, whether it is a hotel or a friend's house.
     * The emergency number for the local area and how to dial a phone.
     * Your contact number (whether it be a mobile number or the home/hotel)

9.  If you feel comfortable, for younger children, create an ID card that they can wear (out of sight) with this same information, which can be shown to the professionals.

10.  Teach your children to seek out safe adults if they become separated.  You have to decided what "safe adult" means for you, but police, firemen, even store workers, are common ones.

Sometimes, as they say, "an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure", so try to be prepared for the situations you may face.  If you are going to be travelling in large crowds, think of ways to keep physical contact with your children.  The ones in the strollers or Baby Bjorn should be easy, but consider "baby leashes" for ones who are still young but mobile.  They are readily available from most baby stores, and come in a variety of fun shapes and sizes, so as to make them not so demeaning to the kids.  Hold the hands of older ones.

No one wants to have a family trip sullied by the panic of a lost child, but that panic can be lessened with careful planning and preparation.  So plan ahead and safe travels!

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