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Lost child in a crowd: "Where is he?!?"

Over the holiday break, a couple of the urbanMamas families were able to get together and had an outing at an amusement park.  

We had four parents and six kids, ranging in age from 4  to 13.  At the ticket booth, there was lots of discussion amongst the kids: who would ride with whom on what ride, which ride they would do first, which rides they did NOT want to do, and how many rides they could accomplish before closing time.  Amongst the mamas, there was discussion too: how many tickets to get for the 4-year olds, how many rides were open (on a limited operation day), how many rides they would fit in before closing.  Add to this, the haunted house stationed directly behind us at the ticket booth (scaring the two 4-year old boys with ghoulish noises and blasts of smoke), and the obnoxiously loud free fall ride, complete with screaming patrons, immediately adjacent to the ticket booth.

Upon purchasing tickets, we distributed them to the older kids and they rushed off.  With them gone, we could focus on the littles and the kiddie rides.  I turned to my 4-yr old and said, "ready to go on the car ride?"  I looked for his other 4-yr old buddy and - realizing he wasn't there - asked my mama friend: "Where is he?"  She said: "WHAT? Oh my god!"  We split and started running in opposite directions, my 4-yr old's little hand firmly in mine.

I dialed my husband, who was with the other dad locking up stuff in cars, and asked: "He wouldn't happen to be with you, would he?"  Response: "What? No! Why?"

We started walking and canvassing.  This boy couldn't have gone far.  He was *just* right there.  Just right *here*.  His mama went to the security office and filed a report.  I took my 4-yr old and said, "Show me where your friend would go.  Would he go in here?"  We went into the gift shop and shouted his name.  "Would he go in here?" We went into the arcade and shouted his name into that dark cave of blinking lights and beeps and honks.  We keep walking and calling his name.  We saw the batch of big kids queue up for the bumper cars, big smiles on their faces, unaware of the circumstances of their little brother.

My husband walked up stairs to the "people mover" ride, for a bird's eye view.  I continued to walk the main floor.  He couldn't have gone far; he couldn't have gone far.  His mama feared the worst, the absolute unthinkable.  Four parents were scouring the place, calling his name, keeping eyes ever alert for the little guy in grey sweatshirt and light blue jeans.  We were all levitating in a place of panic.

I bumped into my husband who was describing the boy to a security guard.  He said, "He's wearing light jeans and a grey sweatshirt..." and I added, "A grey sweatshirt just like THIS!"  Just then, out of the crowd, our lost boy appeared so I could show the security guard exactly what sweatshirt he was wearing.

A sigh of relief, complete and utter relief, about 15 minutes felt like an eternity.  We held on tight until we were all again reunited, our two families for a grand total of ten bodies.  It turns out our little buddy was so bothered by the loud screams and noises of the ride, he just scootched over a bit to get away from the noise.  When he turned around again, he didn't see us, so he walked and walked to try to find us.  Once he reached the end, he turned back and walked toward the entrance.  He heard us calling for him, so he kept walked toward where he heard our voices.

After this whole experience, we all realized we didn't have a plan with our kids on what to do when lost.  What do you advise?  Have you lost your little?  How did you reunite?

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We take pictures of the kids in what they are wearing when we enter the event/location so we can show security what they are wearing on that day. We also used to write our cell phone numbers on the inside of their forearms so they could show it to an adult and have that person call us (before they were embarrassed to have this done and had memorized our phone numbers). We told the kids to find an adult in the immediate area with kids their age (that was the important part-it couldn't be an adult alone) and tell them they are lost, show the number on the arm and ask to call. We also arrange a meeting place if we are at a large venue that can't be searched quickly. We also told them to stop moving if they felt they were lost; it is hard to find a moving target.

Our son (now 8) knows our phone numbers and to look for a mom with kids. He got lost in a corn maze with his aunt last year. He found a mom with kids, told her he had lost his person in charge and stayed with her as the mom looked for security and as security found him. Also he looks for women/moms in uniforms and/or with name tags. I like the meeting place idea and to stay in one place.

When we go to some place huge like Disneyland, we take daily photos in the a.m. for a record as well. Otherwise we don't do that, though it seems prudent in any busy outing. Aside from that, we taught the kids from the time they were able to understand that if they ever lose sight of us in any setting -- mall, amusement park, etc. -- they are to stop moving and just stand there so mom and dad can backtrack to look for them. We repeated this enough times to reinforce things. I often would tell them the story of how my brother got lost when he was around 5 in a mall and, because he moved around looking for us, it took us a long time to find him (and that's only because a security guard found him and located us). We elected to go with the "stop and don't move" option when they were little because we thought it would be tougher for them to wander around (and easier to get more lost) to locate a predesignated meeting place if we happen to have wandered far away. So far this has worked for us; we've lost sight of them for minutes on at least a couple of occasions in super crowded settings and managed to find them by backtracking.

They are now old enough that they've memorized our cell phone numbers so if they need to ask an adult for help they can track us down. When they were younger, in addition to the "stop and don't move" rule, when we traveled or visited places like Disneyland we also often had them wear an ID band that I ordered online that contains just my cell # and my husband's cell # with a "If Lost, call . . ." message. We didn't put the kids' names on it to avoid having an unfriendly stranger take advantage by using their names to pretend knowledge and build trust (and say something like your parents asked me to pick you up).

Our child is 5 years old. We also take a picture when going somewhere busy (amusement park, airport, Last Thursday). We also always dress him in a bright shirt (orange, red) as it is easier to spot quickly. We make sure he knows what Mom and Dad are wearing, too so he can spot us.

Amy - I love the stop & don't move instruction. I will use that with my girl from now on.
When we went to Disneyland when she was 4, we put my phone number on painters tape inside her skort. When we went through the gate, we introduced her to DL employees & pointed out the nametag. We told her that if she got separated from us, to find someone with that nametag & tell them to call the phone number.
I love the idea of finding a mom with kids to ask for help, and want to believe that no mom would turn away a lost kid. But I've seen parents do a lot of things at Disney that I never want to believe people would do.

I'm so geeky that I used to dress all four of us in similar t-shirts on special event days. Tie dye, bright reds or yellows are a very quick way for a mom to do a head count.... mine, mine, mine, okay!

But yes, stay put. Memorize numbers. Look for a friendly mom with kids of her own. All these are helpful advice.

We lost my son at the zoo. It was awful. A family stepped between us at an exhibit and he lost track of us and walked back towards the entrance from 'Africa' and was trying to get to the car. A security officer found him. It was a long terrifying 20 minutes. I've told him to stay put as soon as he realizes we're gone. And to tell a grown up with kids. Since then we seperate day school and he tried to go to the car again. He's 5 and we are still obviously working on this. It's so scary.

That said, if there is a "better" place to get lost, it's Disneyland. I used to work there and the intensity and extreme thoroughness with which they search for lost children is amazing. Every store is immediately given an alert and an employee from that store is told to immediately stop doing what they are doing and search within that store for the child. Pretty damn amazing. They work from the edges of the park to the center.

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