It happens so suddenly..when a child wanders off
My friend’s son got lost (or perhaps I should say separated from us) very briefly in the park recently. My friend and I were there together, watching as six of our children climbed an enormous old oak tree. Our attention was focused upwards on the tree and them climbing safely, as we stood at the foot of it directing them. So we didn’t notice when her son took hold of the football, and wandered off. Not far: just twenty yards or so to the play swings. But it was far enough in a big park to scare us badly. And so the issue of child safety really became prevalent in my thoughts.
I’ve always taught my kids to stand still and shout for mummy if they get lost. On this occasion my friend’s child did call out for us, and a kind father helped him. He was able to describe the top my friend was wearing, so we located each other within a couple of minutes. But they were horrible minutes.
Should we be planning for the worst?
And so it got me thinking….should you always be creating a plan for these eventualities when you go out?
Should you always be taking a mental audit of what your children are wearing? (It sounds stupid, but when you have three of four small people to consider, it’s easy for it all to merge into “not quite sure-ness”).
Should you be asking them to describe what you are wearing as you head out? Is it wise to agree a designated check point (like the cash tills) every time you go into a shop?
Another friend I know has taught her five year old to recite relevant mobile numbers. This is something I think I ought to invest some time in. In a crowded place, I write my contact numbers on my childrens’ forearms, but I seriously doubt my younger ones could recite my number.
When does planning become paranoia?
But where do concerns over child safety spill over into paranoia, and losing a sense of trust and freedom?
When do children become nervous to go out and lose that sense of being carefree in a park? They need to know stranger danger, but they don’t need to live in its constant shadow. I think children SHOULD be allow to roam free to enjoy and explore their surroundings up to a point. We, their parents, need to operate in the background to make sure those surroundings are safe.
So is it not better just to have a firmly understood rule? Maybe mine is not perfect, but here’s what I tell them:
- Always stay with Mummy – it’s your job to stick to me.
- If we get separated, stand still and yell “Mummy” as loud as you can.
- If you approach someone, make sure it is someone wearing a uniform or behind a till.
Advice from an American Child Safety Expert, Pattie Fitzgerald, largely supports this. Firstly children should yell for you. If you don’t respond, they should “stay put and ask the first “mummy” with a child they see to help them. Why a mum? Women with kids are statistically less likely to be predators and more likely to stay with your child until they find you.” (parents.com)
The National Crime Prevention Council says we should also teach and practice a response to stranger danger with children. Their recommendation is “No, Go, Yell, Tell.”
“In dangerous situations, kids should say no, run away, yell as loud as they can, and tell a trusted adult what happened right away. Make sure that your children know that it is okay to say no to an adult in a dangerous situation and to yell to keep themselves safe, even if they are indoors.” (ncpc.org)
What would you do?
The point is, these moments are never planned, as we so aptly demonstrated that day. Issues of child safety sneak up on you and, frankly, scare the living daylights out of you.
Which just proves that we all need to be preapred, without discouraging our children to live life and explore. So my question to you is…what would you do? Maybe it’s time for us all to plan for the unexpected.
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