What Parents Should Do if Their Child is Lost in a Public Place

Would you know what to do if you became separated from your child?

child lost
Having a child lost in a crowded place can be one of the most harrowing experiences for families. Here is what you should do if this happens to you. Getty Images

It’s one of the most nightmarish scenarios for parents: What would you do if you became separated from your child in a busy or crowded public place like a zoo or a supermarket?

It could happen to any of us in the blink of an eye. You look away for a few seconds and your child is nowhere to be found. Would you know what to do? Whether you’re headed just to the local park or a special destination like a museum, read these tips and be prepared.

Before you go:

  • Always have a current photo of your child that clearly shows her features. If you are headed out to a zoo, museum, beach, or other crowded area, be sure to take a photo of your child with your cell phone that clearly shows what he is wearing before heading out the door.
  • Write down your information. If your child is too young to memorize your name and phone number, write it down on a piece of paper and tuck it into her pocket or shoe. Remind her that she should show the paper to a safe adult, like a woman with a child, in the even that she is lost, says Nancy McBride, National Safety Director at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

If your child is lost:

  • If you become separated from your child, try very hard not to panic (much easier said than done, of course). Acting quickly and with a clear head will be imperative in a situation in which your child is lost.
  • Contact the main office or lost-child center immediately. If you are at an amusement park, zoo, or other place with a main office, they probably have a lost-child office. Call them immediately or ask an employee to do so for you so that they can coordinate with security guards and other personnel and begin the search for your child.
  • Don’t be shy about calling the police. Trust your gut instinct and don’t rely solely on employees to find your child and wait to call the police. After you’ve done a cursory search, call your local law-enforcement agency immediately, says McBride.
  • Never expect store employees to be babysitters. Don’t leave your child in a store and expect that they’ll be safe or watched at all times.
  • Get a sitter. If you know that you are going to be distracted -- if you plan on doing loads of holiday shopping, for instance -- get a babysitter instead of taking your chances with your child at a crowded place where you can’t keep a close eye on him.
  • Make sure your caregiver knows exactly what to do in the event that she is separated from your child.
  • Set guidelines for older kids. Just because you have a worldly middle-schooler, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need safety tips as well. If you let them go somewhere with their friends, set clear meeting places and a firm time limit, suggests McBride.

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