Dr. G, Our kids are nine, eight and six. I’d like to take them on some outings this summer – they are certainly asking to go – but I’m really nervous about one of them getting separated from the group. It can be hard to keep an eye on all of them in a busy place, but I keep waiting for them to “get older” and I’m not sure when it is OK to take them to amusement parks and stuff by myself. What do you think?
Jen in Connecticut
Jen, it is time to get up and go! You’ll have fun, and teach your kids some great lessons at the same time. Before you do, however, there are some great ways to prepare your kids (and yourself) to avoid getting separated, and what to do if they get lost.
- Memorize mom’s cell phone number! This is a must for every verbal child. Gone are the days of memorizing your home phone and address as a safety thing. Make it a game, make up a song, but make sure all three of your kids have your cell number so thoroughly in their brains that they can recite it in the middle of a sound sleep!
- Use the buddy system. Whenever you go on an outing, pair your kids up (you get a partner also if there is an odd number). Try to do this by gender so that they can go to the bathroom together – and they must, even if only one partner has to go. Make it clear that, if somebody abandons their buddy the trip is over and you’re headed to the car.
- Stay put! Once a child figures out he or she is “lost,” they should stay pretty close to where they are. Remind your children that you will always keep looking for them until they are found, and that the more they wander the longer that will take!
- Teach your kids the “who to ask” rules. When lost or separated, kids should not feel alone. With these smart rules, they will be able to look around and figure out who is best to ask for help in any situation.
- A police officer. Always best
- A uniformed employee. Whether you’re in a museum or water park or Walmart, the first thing to do with your kids when you enter is get them to point out to you how the employees are dressed, and remind them these are the people to talk to if there is a problem.
- A woman with children. If you must go up to a stranger to ask for help, a woman with more than one kiddo is a safe bet – both that she will be sympathetic, and that she will do everything in her power to reunite you with your child.
- Go into a nearby busy store (without crossing the street) and ask the person behind the counter to help. That person is likely to have a phone, know the address and be willing to let your child stay there until you arrive.
Jen, it is a scary prospect to venture out into the world with our kids and risk someone getting lost. Teaching our kids these skills, though, will make them more resilient, more responsible and more confident in their abilities to handle the unexpected. In our house we say:
Getting lost happens. What matters is what you do next.