Safety Tips to Prevent Losing Your Child in a Public Place

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I lost my son at the beach. It was a gorgeous summer day. We’d planned an exciting beach day in Oostende, on the North Sea on the Belgian coast. We weren’t alone; half of Belgium seemed to have the same idea and the beach was packed. Here is my experience, and safety tips to prevent losing your child in a public place.

Safety Tips to Prevent Losing Your Child in a Public Place

We were visiting with extended family and spending the whole day relaxing at the beach, playing in the sand, and enjoying a delicious picnic al fresco. We were a big group—two kids and seven adults. There were more than enough eyes on the scene, or so we thought.

My son (age 7 at the time), had just been digging a hole in the sand. We were chatting and laughing, some of us kicking a ball, others finishing lunch sandwiches and cleaning up.

And then, he was gone.

I turned around and saw the hole, but didn’t see my son there anymore. A quick survey proved no one else saw him either.

It was a classic miscommunication. I thought you were watching him. I thought YOU were watching him. 

That moment of panic is difficult to describe. A cold sweat and adrenalin rush swept across me. I scanned the beach wildly, trying to pick my son out of the throngs of people. Time slowed and everything seemed to take forever as panic built upon panic. My husband and I looked at each, shaking our heads to say – I don’t see him! A feeling of dread mixed with nausea enveloped me. I tried calling out my son’s name, but the beach was SO loud, with waves crashing and so many people talking and laughing, and the ice cream vendor kept yelling out, “Frisco” as he hawked frozen treats to families who knew where their child was.

I’m sure it was only five minutes, but it felt like a nightmarish eternity. Racing through my mind was the worst case scenario that he’d been snatched. Not that he’d wandered into the water. Ironically, that didn’t worry me at all. Kidnapping frightened me the most. Current affairs didn’t help. Belgium had just uncovered a massive child abduction ring a few months prior to our arrival.

All of a sudden, there he was. My husband’s uncle found my son, in the same area where he’d been digging the hole in the sand. Maybe he had run to the surf to fill his bucket with water, or maybe he became interested in a shell or crab somewhere in between.

When we rushed up to him, my little boy certainly didn’t think he’d been lost. He knew where he’d been all along. We had lost sight of where he had been. The panic, fear and dread was all ours, which was a blessing of sorts. At least he hadn’t been wandering around, crying, looking for us in a strange place. It was an odd sort of comfort, as I squeezed my boy for the rest of the afternoon.

We didn’t go to the beach that day to get a taste of our worst nightmare. If we’d been more prepared, we could have prevented the situation from happening at all.

Finding someone in the acres of beachfront in Oostende, Belgium, is a challenge

Take steps to prevent losing your child in a public place, like at a busy beach

Safety Tips to Prevent Losing Your Child in a Public Place

1. Dress your child in bright colors.
Buy bright shirts, hats, and bathing suits to make children easier to spot in a crowd. Neon colors stand out more than muted tones. Dressing siblings in matching hats or shirts can help parents remember what color to seek should someone get lost.

2. Develop a ‘what if’ protocol.
Before reaching your destination, discuss what each family member should do if separated from the group. Tell kids whose help should they seek such as a lifeguard, police officer, or a mom with children. Arrange a meeting point if your kids are old enough to find a pre-determined landmark on their own, or instruct them to stay put if they’re young (under age 8).

3. Have a recent digital photo of your child on your smart phone or camera.
Better yet, take your child’s picture on the morning of your outing, wearing that day’s outfit.

4. If you’re traveling in a large group, assign one adult to watch each child at all times.
If the assigned adult needs to spell off, he or she has to ‘tag’ another adult to take over. Don’t make assumptions, or you may end up in a Home Alone situation, and it will not be a comedy. This is especially true when playing in a pool or near water; drownings often occur at pool parties because adults assume someone else is watching the children.

5. Share your cell number with your child.
Quiz older children to make sure they remember a parent or caregiver’s cell phone number in case of emergency. For younger kids, write your number on their arm with a permanent marker. It will be waterproof, and won’t wash off for days. If you label your child’s clothing, make sure those labels include your cellular phone number.

6. Invest in a mobile, wearable GPS tracking device.
Although relatively expensive, tracking devices such as the AmberAlertGPS can offer peace of mind. Ensuring the device stays on your child will likely be the biggest challenge.

Have you ever lost sight of your child, at a store, beach or playground? Share your story and tips below.

A Note from The Curious Travel Mama: I did not receive any compensation related to this post. All opinions are mine, as always.

All photos by Claudia Laroye.

About Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama

Claudia Laroye lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two sons (ages 18 and 20). She started travelling at a very young age, and has never stopped. She’s had the fortune of visiting more than 20 countries on four continents, and has also lived abroad in Sweden. Claudia is passionate about family travel and about educating children through the travel experience. She is the author of the thetravellingmom.ca, and contributes to many online and print media publications. Connect with Claudia on Twitter as @travelling_mom.

Comments
  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Claudia – I should have read this post before my trip to Hawaii last week! Looking back, it would have been so easy to lose my 6-year-old son at the beach (who was digging in the sand) while my mom and I cooled off in the water. We kept an eye on him, but it would have been easy for him to slip away somewhere. I’m going to remember these safety tips for our future public outings for sure!

  2. That must have been frightening! I love the tips that you give.

    • Claudia Laroye, The Curious Travel Mama says

      Indeed, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Thanks for your comment, Clay. Cheers!

  3. Claudia Laroye says

    Yes, it’s all about keeping that vigilant eye out, as they can move so quickly, despite their small size. It sounds like your Hawaiian adventure was wonderful, Colleen!

  4. Bronwyn Joy says

    All good tips. When my son was four he knew a “what if” protocol for getting lost at the mall and had both our phone numbers memorised. One day he got temporarily separated from us – I saw him calm himself and go through the protocol. It was a great feeling to see that he knew it and could use it.

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