Our family is pretty laid back when it comes to travel, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, we pride ourselves in being able to see the humor in almost any situation. That said, we will be traversing FOUR busy international airports in the next month and paying a visit to the happiest (and possibly most crowded) place on earth. Yes, we’re crazy. Late night nursing sessions give me lots of time to worry and overthink. Are we taking all the rights steps to keep track of our kids while we travel?
So I scoured the internet, used personal experiences, and chatted with a security consultant to determine some additional steps we will take to keep our kids from getting lost. I even managed to come up with ten things you can do. And everyone likes a list, right? But we’re not about boring, scare-you-with-the-facts lists here. We’re about making it humorous and interesting so that maybe you’ll actually remember it when it counts. The list below tells you what NOT to do and then gives some tips on what you might actually try instead.
So, without further ado, here are Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Your Kids in a Crowded Place:
1. Dress them in muted colors so they blend in with their surroundings. It’s never fun to be the obvious, obnoxious tourist with your bright, flashy clothes amongst a sea of black and grey. BUT if you know you’ll be somewhere crowded it is important to dress your kids in BRIGHT colors so they are easier to spot if you lose sight of them.
2. Take those breakfast “food selfies” religiously while ignoring your kids. Confession. I didn’t even know “food selfie” was a thing until a few weeks ago. Seriously? Instead, or at least after you’ve snapped a shot of your awesome hotel breakfast, take a picture of your kids. Why? If they should get lost while you’re out that day, you’ll know exactly what they were wearing and can give this information to police or venue security. 3. Make sure your kids know all the lyrics to “867-5309”. As impressed as we all would be that your kids know Jenny’s phone number, it would be a lot more useful if they know your own. This week at home, we put my phone number to song (I recommend the tune to ‘Oh my Darling, Clementine’). Both my toddler and preschooler had it down by the evening of the first day. It worked too well, in fact. My daughter happily sang mommy’s phone number to everyone in the pediatrician’s office the next day. Hooray to perfect strangers humming my phone number in their head all night.
4. Forbid your kids from knowing your real name. Just imagine the scenario. Airport security has found your children and is trying to help reunite them with their parents. Instead of quickly getting on the intercom and calling you by name to come collect them from Gate 4, they’re left calling for “the mother of Jack”. Plus, if you lose your child in a crowded toy store, instead of joining a myriad of voices whining, “Mommy!” she can yell your full name to get your attention. My kids know my first and last name and their whole names. They also know it’s disrespectful to call us by our first names and they are slowly learning that not every kid at the playground needs to know our entire family’s full names.
5. Adorn them in bling that screams their first name. Disneyworld and the airport are NOT the place for personalized t-shirts and backpacks and necklaces and bracelets that shout, “Hi, my name is KATIE!” Just what you want–some stranger luring your child away using the name blaring from their Etsy t-shirt. No! Make sure nothing with their first name is clearly visible from a distance. Instead, use an ID bracelet or card that is tucked away to carry important personal information. There’s a huge selection of children’s safety wristbands and pocket identification cards designed just for this purpose. That way, when my preschooler freezes and won’t sing or my toddler mumbles through the numbers in mommy’s song, they can reverse their wristbands and just show someone the card with their parents’ names and contact information.
6. Respect your child’s “personal space” bubble at all times. And while you’re at it, encourage sprinting drills every time a few feet of space opens up. Umm, no. Crowded places are not times to respect the bubble. Our rule is “hand-handle-stroller“. If we are in a crowded place (and you’re old enough to have an opinion), your options are mommy or daddy’s hand, hold on to the stroller handle, or be in the stroller. If it’s super crowded, there are no options–you get the death hand grip or shoved into the stroller with your other siblings. 7. Encourage games of hide-and-seek in public places. I’m guilty of this one. It was cute when my preschooler, back at age 2, wanted to hide in the clothing racks at Target. It was a nightmare when she decided to play that game on Black Friday and I didn’t know we were playing. My current toddler has never enjoyed a game of Hide-and-Seek in a store because Mommy learned the hard way that the only appropriate crowded place games are the mom versions of “Freeze” and “Simon Says”. My kids know if they run off or hide in a big store, mommy will NEVER think it’s cute or funny. 8. Always assume the other adults with you are keeping an eye on the kids. Another one I’ve learned from experience. We’ve been lucky enough to take a lot of family vacations with grandparents and aunts and uncles. Those same trips are also some of the closest we’ve come to losing sight of our kids. It’s far too easy to assume that someone else is watching them when there are a bunch of adults in your party. Allocate clearly and out loud the person responsible for each child and repeat and revise as needed.
9. Encourage your children to explore independently if they get separated from you. We all want our kids to be independent and self-assured, but we also want them to be safe. If they get separated from you, it is best for them to stay put. It’s easier for a parent to back-track a few steps then to guess which place their child wandered off to next. 10. Tell them not to talk to strangers. Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. If you want to lose your kids, make sure you’ve drilled it into them that strangers are BAD. We’re quick to teach “stranger danger” at a young age, but forget that if our child gets lost they’ll be relying on strangers to help them find mom and dad. We’ve started teaching my 4 year-old how to identify “helpers” in uniforms. Store employees, policemen, fire fighters–she’s now at an age where she can identify these types of strangers and knows they can be trusted if she gets separated from us. My toddler is being taught the same thing we taught his sister a few years back: find a mommy. You can read up in detail on the logic behind this advice, but I like how another mom explained the “find a mommy” logic on her blog:
“Kids tend to be shy around adults. If she got lost, she would see crowds of adults and wouldn’t know who to go to for help. Telling her to find another mommy is something that she can easily do, even though she’s just a toddler. Toddlers zero in on other children and their mothers in crowded places, and she’ll likely feel less shy around another mother. In other words, “mommies” are people a toddler can easily identify and associate with security. Bingo, exactly what she’ll need if she’s lost.” (click here to read Maria’s full article)
Both my kids love playing “spot a mommy” as we walk through the store. And I’m confident that if they got lost, they’d know who to ask for help. As they get older there are many more conversations we will need to have about strangers and staying safe, but for now, I think we are off to a good start. That’s my list. I believe not doing the things above are age-appropriate ways we can keep our kids safe, and not lost, while we travel. It certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully it can serve as a starting point as we continue to
worry educate ourselves about protecting our children for many years to come.
Did I miss anything important? Do you have any advice that’s worked well for your kids? Let us know in the comments! If you want to read more on crowd and travel safety for kids, I’ve included links to some great resources below. Other Helpful Articles: