I am sure you will never lose your children in a crowd because you are a good parent and you will never take your eyes off them. However, you might wish to consider that Missing Kids UK states that there are 306,000 reports of missing children (under 18s) made to the British Police every year. With 15 million children in the UK, that puts the odds at 1 in 50. If losing a child is your worst nightmare and you want the added layer of protection that comes from having a good plan then read on. I have tried to combine some of my military and parenting experience to compile some useful tips.
Being a parent is really tough and it’s hard knowing what to prioritise. I do want my children to do their best in school, to have good manners and not to pick their nose too much. But what I really want most of all is to be able to keep them safe. The long cold winter months are a good time to start planning the most amazing summer and I hope to take my family to the beach, go abroad on holiday, visit theme parks and go to a number of festivals and sporting events. All of these activities involve large crowds and the chance of becoming separated. I have compiled a list of ideas to prevent this from happening and some suggestions on what to do if it does.
The requirement for event organisers in the UK to have Lost Children Points is testament to the fact that children tend to wander off. Your child will find a crowd to be wonderful, exhilarating, noisy and exciting. Even if you have told them to stay still while you do something vital, expect their natural curiosity to get the better of them. They may panic and wander off trying to look for you. Another adult may take them in an effort to be helpful and reunite them with you. Or you may just get separated as you are carried along by the flow of people in the hustle and bustle. So what can we do?
Clothing. Highly visible clothing will help you identify your children in a crowd. You could all consider wearing the same colour, so that your children can also easily find you if you get separated. If you are not keen on colour-coding your entire family, think outside the box and go with matching hats or something fashionable, fun and easily distinguishable. Once you have your outfits on, take a photo of each member of the family on your phone in case the worst happens and you need to describe someone who is missing.
Contact Details. Your children will need to know their full names. Make sure they also know yours – as I am pretty sure mine actually thought I was called ‘Daddy Pig’ for a while. If it’s difficult to spell, consider writing their full name on their bedroom door or above their bed so they see it every night. If they are old enough then do this with your mobile number and your address too. Get them to recite your number back to you every day until they have learnt it and then practice every so often afterwards. We made this into a game and practised on car journeys. I was always amazed at how quickly my children seemed to be able to remember things like their IPad passwords, so consider setting these as your mobile number; it’s amazing what they will do to ensure they have access to their electronic devices. Check your comms when you get to your destination to make sure your mobile actually works – and have a backup plan if it doesn’t.
Identification. If your children are too young to recite their names and your phone number when scared or in a panic then use a wristband to put your contact details on so that if they are separated you can be contacted easily. There are some very good waterproof Velcro fastening ones on Amazon. Failing that, just take a permanent pen and write on their arm. You might also want to put any ticket stubs with seat numbers or tent locations in their pocket.
Tracking devices. There are lots of options available for wearable GPS technology for children. These are usually smart looking watches with the ability to set proximity alerts, tamper alarms and location tracking. You can even conduct a two-way video call on the most expensive models.
Buddy system. Try and avoid going solo with your children in crowded situations. Think about how hard it will be to do things like go to the toilet without another adult to keep an eye on the children. You could keep them with you at all times, but there are only so many people you can get into a festival portaloo. If you can’t avoid going on your own, then try and team up with other adults at the event; you might even make some new friends.
Queuing. Children are not usually impressed with long queues. If you can, then get them to stand in front of you or holding your hand so that you have physical contact and can observe your surroundings without having to keep staring down to make sure they haven’t wandered off. This is probably not the time for you to be looking at your smartphone. Try and think of ways to keep them occupied by playing games, or use this as snack time.
Safe adults. Teach your children about ‘safe adults’. Tell them that people in uniforms such as the police, medical professionals, military or even traffic wardens are the right people to approach in case of emergency or when lost. Personnel wearing high visibility vests are also usually (but not always) responsible adults. Each event will have different ‘safe adults’ and it is worth pointing these people out when you arrive. This might include people like lifeguards, shop staff or security guards. If you are at a festival or concert, get them to head for the stage if the crowds aren’t too manic. If none of these are an option then encourage them to look for a mummy with her children. Teach your children to feel comfortable asking for help.
Exit strategy. One of the first things that I do when I am in an unfamiliar environment is work out what my exit strategy will be in the event of an emergency. Work out what you will do if you have to leave in a rush and ensure that everybody in the family knows the plan.
Kit and equipment. Your essential gear will depend on your own family’s needs and the nature of the event that you are attending. I will cover this in more detail in a separate article. Items such as water, a first aid kit and a small torch can be life-savers.
Hand signals. Crowds are noisy and it can be very difficult to communicate. Understanding the basic signals for ‘come here’, or ‘I need help’ could be a good idea, and this can also be fun. We use the ‘on-me’ signal to get the children to close-in, which is simply putting one hand on top of your head.
Emergency Rendezvous (ERV). Identify easily recognisable landmarks that you can all head to if you get separated. This could be a designated lost children aid post or a place that is familiar to you all and easy to find. Don’t pick anything that might move, such as an ice cream van.
Actions-On. Assume you will get separated and talk it through with your children. Teach them not to panic. When you arrive, point out the people who work there and work out what the lost child procedure is at the event. Use role-play to discuss what the particular ‘actions-on’ are going to be if someone gets lost.
Take action. If the worst has happened and you have become separated then go to the last place you saw your child. Call security. Send someone to the ERV. Listen out for announcements on the tannoy and get your own announcement on there as soon as you can.
Get help. Don’t ever feel like you are putting people out or causing a fuss. Everyone will understand what you are going through. Ask everybody to help. Enlisting help multiplies your chances of finding your child quickly. Show everyone the picture you have on your phone. Get security to lock down the exits.
Reassurance. Once you have located your child you may feel angry because they didn’t follow protocol, or your child may be cross with you for ‘abandoning’ them. Your story has ended with you being reunited, so find something positive from the experience and celebrate what you all did well to get back together. Thank everybody who helped you. Learn from what happened, hug each other and be thankful for what you have.
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