I'll never forget the first time I lost sight of my son in the grocery store. I had my hands full with my infant daughter and stopped to check a label. I looked up and he was gone. A wave of incredible panic and despair washed over me. “Where is he!!!”. Fortunately, Luke was found a few aisles over. Smiling, happy and completely oblivious that he had just sent my world spinning in the other direction.
It was an eye-opening experience and one that I was completely unprepared for. From then on, I vowed to learn everything I could about losing children in public places and the unspoken fear of child abductions. The good news is, the chances of your child being abducted by a stranger are very rare. There's also a number of things you can do as a parent to reduce these odds considerably. I'll now share some of these methods with you.
Missing Child – Lock The Doors!
I read a report of a woman who lost her child in a department store. She immediately yelled: “Missing Child – Lock The Doors! And they did until the child was found. I was amazed at the woman's foresight, and that stores would actually do this. They do – and it's called “Code Adam”.
Well, in 1981, a 6-year old called Adam Walsh (whose father John was “America's Most Wanted” host) was abducted from a Sears department store. 16 days later they found his severed head, but they have never found the poor child's body.
It took 13 years for Walmart to create “Code Adam”, a code for missing children. The key points of the code are:
- Staff are instructed to lock the doors immediately.
- The child's description, clothes, and name are paged store-wide
- Law enforcement is called if your child is not found in ten minutes
Today, many of the nation's top stores and amusement parks are part of “Code Adam”. Sadly as it's “voluntary” quite a few are not!
10 Tips for Being Prepared
Here are 10 tips to prevent losing children and also to find them as quickly as possible.
1. Stay Calm
If you do lose a child – stay calm. Despite the press attention and urban legend, child abduction by strangers in public places are extremely rare. Secondly, you need to give out the description and details as soon as possible. The staff and law enforcement are trained to do this. The quicker and better you can do this really helps them do their job.
2. Get A Child ID Kit
The FBI's most important recommendation for parents is having a child ID kit. Each kit contains a fingerprint and DNA swab. There's also cards for recent photographs and recent descriptions. The kits are cheap at $9.95 and available from the National Child Identification program website.
3. Know Your Child's Key Details
A survey conducted by The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that a third of parents did not know all their children's vital statistics. Even with just one child, many parents could not state their height within one-inch or their weight within 5-pounds.
4. Keep Copies Of Recent Photos
If you don't get an ID kit, having multiple copies of a recent photo printed out with your child's description on the back is a good idea. These can be handed out quickly and save you having to remember important details when distressed.
A good tip is to show children in the area as well. Studies have shown children notice other kids better than adults. Before going somewhere like a holiday-season mall or amusement park, taking a photo next to a car is another great idea. You'll be able to know exactly what your child is wearing and have a height reference too.
5. ID Tags, Bands & Tattoos
Some parents take to writing down their name and phone number on a child's hand before taking a day trip. Others write their details in a concealable place (like on the back of a toddler) with a sharpie. They teach them to lift their shirt up and show their back if they get lost.
There are other methods available to parents such as cool-looking ID bands and temporary ID tattoos. The FBI warn against visible name labels as they could be used to trick your child.
6. Teach Children Safety Issues
Fortunately, there are things we can do as parents to prevent our children from getting lost or even abducted. If a stranger approaches – “Yell, Run & Tell!”. Teach them if they ever do get lost, to approach a mother with children and ask for help. Statistically, these are the safest and most likely people to ask.
When going somewhere crowded you can also pre-assign meet-up spots in case of separation. Use the opportunity for a quick review of “The Rules”. The book “Protecting the Gift – Keeping Children & Teenagers Safe” by Gavin de Becker is an excellent resource for parents as well.
7. Know The Lures Child Predators Use
Teaching “Stranger Danger” is good, but we can use the actual “lures” child predators use to teach our children.
Researchers studied almost 10,000 attempted abduction cases, and 100 of these tricks were identified. You can find the Top 5 lures here and use them to role play safety scenarios with your children.
8. Teach Full Names
Teach your kids how to say their full name and your real name as early as possible. This will help people contact you quicker and return your child.
Children should also be taught how to use a telephone and make long-distance calls (under a watchful eye!) as early as possible. You can make this a bit of a game when visiting friends and relatives during the holiday season.
9. Wear Bright Clothes
Some families wear matching outfits which is great (you can remember what you're wearing quickly) but dressing your child in bright clothes is better. Hats, shirts, and jackets in bright green or yellow will help you and others spot them easier.
10. Use A Harness
Lastly, this suggestion does seem a bit drastic – but it is very effective at stopping younger kids wandering off. Sure, you might get disapproving looks from others but really, what do they know Just remembering the harrowing abduction and murder of 2-year old Jamie Bulger gives me the strength I need to look them all in the eye.