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Create a Plan with Your Child if They Get Lost While Traveling

by Susan Finch

Nov 22, 2017

© Ammentorp | Dreamstime


It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Their family is enjoying a vacation and their child goes missing. Although it’s certainly cause for alarm, you can prep your children on what to do when they get lost without jumping straight into panic mode.


Have a Back-up Plan

Whenever you arrive at your destination for the day, whether an amusement park or a city to explore, have a back-up plan ready for your child. This empowers your children to take responsibility for their safety and gives some control over the situation to come and find you.


Older kids can of course use a smartphone to get in touch, but regardless of their age, it’s still wise to have a back-up plan in case phone coverage is less than reliable. Tell them to make their way to the front gate and use a visual marker if they get lost. “If we get separated, ask a grown-up to take you to the security office and we’ll find you there.” Or if you’re going to be in a relatively small area, you could suggest, “If you lose sight of me, walk over to the popcorn machines and video games and I’ll find you there. It might take me a few minutes to come find you, but I promise I’m not leaving without you.”


Remind Them of the Essentials

Not all children will automatically remember your real names if they’re lost and panicked, especially smaller children. Remind them of your real first and last name and make sure they repeat it to you.


You should also remind them of your smartphone number if they’re old enough to memorize it, the name of your hotel, and any other crucial information. But keep it to the essentials. They don’t need to be quizzed on every scenario and essential unless it applies to them during your time away.

Parents talking to daughter before flight

Photo: Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) | Dreamstime


Write Your Accommodation Info Somewhere Accessible

It’s easy enough to program your accommodation information into a smartphone, but it still needs to be written down in case a battery goes dead or a smaller child is out and about. Write down your info on an index card and tuck it in your child’s pocket.


But smaller children may require an extra measure of safety. Write down the information and tape inside a drawstring sack they’re carrying, or even on their arm if necessary. If they get lost, they can show a grown-up the information and ask them to get in touch with you to come up with a reunion meeting point.


Instruct Them on Who to Ask for Help

If your child needs immediate help due to an injury or safety threat, any nearby grownup is their go-to for help. Otherwise, it’s wise to think about who you want them to walk up to and ask for help. My children know to approach people in this order to ask for help:

  • An employee of the venue or attraction you’re visiting
  • Someone else’s mom
  • A woman
  • A police officer
  • A man


Although there’s nothing necessarily wrong with asking a man for help, I find my children are more comfortable asking either a designated employee (men included) or a woman first. And when it comes to my kids getting lost, I want them to find help from someone they’re comfortable with to get the help they need.


Assure Them It Will Be Okay

Children often don’t know they’re lost until their parents run up to them in tears and announce how scared they were by wandering off. But for kids who realize they are lost, it can be terrifying to realize you have no idea where your parents are in a strange city, state or even country.


Give your child a brief pep talk about what happens if they get lost and let them know it will all be okay. Remind them it won’t take long to find each other and that’s why you have the plan in the first place. Chances are your empowered, confident kids will be the ones who know exactly what to do when they get lost, and the parents are the ones who need the pep talk on staying calm.


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