It can happen to the best of us: we are walking with our kids one moment, and the next? They're gone. More often than not, a quick scan of our surroundings turns them right up, but those rare occasions when they are legitimately lost feel too terrifying to even think about.
And although there are thankfully helpful strategies parents can follow to find their child (ever heard of "loud looking"?), there are also a few things parents can do to prepare themselves — and their little ones — before it ever happens to them. According to Soraya Sutherlin, a certified emergency manager with more than 13 years of experience helping whole communities better prepare for emergencies, teaching your young children two important lessons will help them in the event they go missing, and could reunite your family much faster.
Teach Your Kids to Find Nearby Landmarks
"Situational awareness is a lifelong skill that you can start to teach them as babies in a stroller," Sutherlin — who, in partnership with leading preparedness brand Judy, wrote the recently released A Kids Book About Safety — told POPSUGAR.
While going for a walk, point out apple trees, signs, and the locations of landmarks like schools and shops. "Now they're making an effort to be looking up and around," Sutherlin said. "As they are able to communicate more, say, 'Let's find everything that is red . . . or starts with the letter A.'"
By teaching your kids how to identify landmarks in the neighborhood, you are empowering them to understand their surroundings, which may make it harder to get lost to begin with. "If your child ever got separated from you and are too young to know their street address, they could say, 'I live four blocks from a fire station,' or, 'I live two blocks away from a big, blue house with a red flag.' And, depending on where you are and how far away you are, those can be indicators to help reunite you with your child."
Teach Your Kids to Find a Parent
Just like physical landmarks, Sutherlin wants young children to be able to identify helpers in their community. "Do your children know who those are? Because they might be different based on your family or your environment, and they need to know who to go to to get help," she said.
Rather than advising kids to never talk to strangers or only teaching them about police officers, who usually aren't present at parks or in grocery-store aisles, she said to empower your kids, if lost, to "find a mommy with children," a tactic her own mother taught her as a child.
"Absolutely, I always say, 'Find a mommy or a group of mommies with children,'" she said. "There's deviations to that based on what's happening in the world, but in general it's a good rule of thumb."
Even advising kids to find a stroller is a helpful tactic — small children readily recognize strollers, they are easy to spot, and they are usually accompanied by a parent.