Kids and their never ending phases… Just when you figure out the solution to one thing, another thing pops up out of nowhere.  Such is parenting!  My son’s newest phase is a little game he likes to call “Run! Hide!”  This was cute at first when he would do it at home and hide under blankets.  But when he decided to test his hiding skills and his limits while out shopping at Nordstrom, it turned from a cute game, to a real problem.  First, let’s go back a little ways…my son was always the type of kid who enjoyed holding our hands while we were out and loved being in both a carrier and stroller for the longest time.  When we travel he’ll still go in a stroller even though he’s a big 3.5 year old.  Judge away, but I’m used to the funny looks I get when people steer at me thinking I’ve strapped in a 5 year old to an umbrella stroller!  But this is all just to say, that he’s always been a child that has stuck close to our sides while we’re out.  So, if you think you should skip this article because your child will never run off or put themselves unknowingly in harm’s way, think again and continue reading please as this information is useful for ALL parents.  I’ve seen a friend lose her child in a store, and I’ve even been put in situations where I’ve helped strangers find their children too, so it can happen to the best of us.  Children are completely unaware of the potential hazards around them and quite honestly, they like to see how far they can push boundaries sometimes or just simply wander off not even realizing it.

Here are some steps to help keep them safe:

1. Talk to your children about the importance of safety.  Explain to them why it’s important to stay close to you while on walks, or while shopping in stores.  Discuss the potential hazards with them and practice what to do should they ever get separated from you.  Communication about personal safety is key, and can start super early in life.

2. Should your child get separated from you, notify the staff immediately wherever you are. It’s  second nature to run around like a chicken with your head cut off screaming your child’s name, but getting help by alerting the staff will allow for more eyes  to be on the lookout as quickly as possible.

3. If there is security, notify them (or have a staff member from step 2 do so) immediately so that they can lock or patrol the door to make sure a child matching your description doesn’t leave the store alone or with anyone else.

4. Along with step 1, (talking to your child about safety)… make sure they are well informed and can communicate the information needed to be re-united with you as quickly as possible.  Something as simple as them knowing your first and last name can help (to allow for the store to page you via intercom), and if they are old enough, knowing your phone number also so that you can be called immediately.

5. Practice safety games such as red light, green light and have special commands to make sure they stop when they are asked to.  This is especially important for safety outside around busy roads.  If they don’t listen, provide consequences such as sitting in a stroller or being carried until they abide by the rules.  You can also use videos and books to help ensure they take safety serious.  For example: Daniel Tiger’s “Stop and listen to stay safe” song is a great, catchy song from a well-known animated character kids love, and a very useful book I’ve referenced before is “I can be safe: A first look at safety” by Pat Thomas.  Pat’s book teaches children why it’s important to look both ways at crossings, tools to help remember your parents name and phone number as well as many other important safety precautions

6. If going to a busy place such as a museum, amusement park or traveling on vacation, make sure to get some safety products such as temporary tattoos or tags with your information on it in case they get lost. Here is an example.

It’s important to remember that these scary situations can literally happen in the blink of an eye.  Make sure if you see another parent out there frantically trying to find their child, you take a second to help them.  There’s no need to feel embarrassed if this happens to you either, parenting is filled with unexpected moments that we’re sometimes not ready for.  All you can do is do your best to be prepared and show support should you see another parent going through this.

I’d like to give a special shout out to the mama in Nordstrom who supported me when my child decided to hide under a clothing rack!  I was screaming his name frantically…I knew what general area he was in but not sure what rack he went under (also, I was definitely the mama I referenced earlier as I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off).  She calmly came up to me and said, let me notify the staff and security guard at the front door and I’ll come back and help you.  By the time she came back, I thankfully had found my little bugger.  She said her daughter had done the same thing before, so she knew exactly how I had felt.  I think due to shock, I wasn’t able to articulate my gratitude for you stopping and helping, but whoever you are, you ROCK! There was a store full of people that didn’t offer their help or support at all; it was beyond kind what you did for me that day.

I hope this article helps prepare other parents out there if they are ever caught in a similar situation and teaches them how to handle an incredibly stressful situation more effectively.  If you’ve ever experienced this scenario and have any pieces of advice that I may have missed above, please comment below.  The more information we share with each other, the more prepared we all can be as a community of parents!