By Kim Estes- Guest Blogger
I remember when I was a kid, my friend had this story in her family that even to this day, is a centerpiece of her families “funny stories”. The kids all remember shopping with Mom, when the manager’s voice came over the store intercom. “Will the parents of a girl named “Jeff”, please come claim your child”. What can I say, it was the 70’s and “Jeff” did indeed look like a girl with his long mop of hair. Over the years, the focus has been on the humor in the gender mix up. As a parent, I now listen to the story and think, “wow, I think that is amazing that Jeff knew what to do when he got lost”.
When we are separated from a loved one in a public place, the reactions can vary. If you are at Home Depot, intently discussing your opinions on faucets, only to turn around and realize your partner is gone and you are babbling to yourself, can be at a minimum, embarrassing. When a parent and child are separated, you go from fear to panic in 60 seconds. For the parent of a child who is a known “sprinter” it seems you always live a constant state of anxiety every time you leave the house.
In this day and age, kids are strapped in with the security of Fort Knox in everything from the grocery cart to the stroller to their Burly. Eventually, they get their wobbly sea legs under them, they move on fast forward. So how does a parent go about talking to their kids about what to do if and when they ever get lost? Well, here are some age appropriate tips on how to talk to your kids without scaring them but empowering them to know what to do if the situation ever arises.
9 months – 2 years: At this age, you can start to introduce the concept of a “Safe mom/Dad with kids”.
You can ask them to point out “the moms with a stroller” in the store. Make a game of it! This will help them with the next level of discussion later.
2-4 years- One thing that you never want to do when teaching your children personal safety is to scare them. With some kids, even the concept or thought of being lost, even for a nano second, is very scary. The word lost can seem very permanent to a child. As an alternate to using the word “lost” you can insert the word “directions” and use role play examples that involve moms or dads and not the child. Here is an example: If you are in the store with you child, you can say to them “OK, if Daddy was waaaay over in the broccoli section and you and I are waaaay over here in the bread section (or maybe the wine section, depending on how your week is going) who could Daddy ask directions from if he needed to find us? Do you see a mom with kids? This is the simplest introduction of “what to do” in a very non threatening way. You can explain to your child that sometimes we get lost or maybe we just need directions on how to get back to each other in the store.
5 – 8: At this age, most kids are in school and are getting used to spending some time away from Mom & Dad. They have gotten used to asking adults for help. At this age, you can talk to your child more about what to do if they get lost and add an option to go find a “cash register” person if they need to locate you.
Another option for your child (and a personal favorite of my kids) is the “freeze and freak out”. It is exactly like it sounds. Freeze in your tracks and yell MOM! I have told my kids that when a mom hears a kids distress call, every mom in the store will come to help. We train our kids to use “indoor voices” so this is concept that may seem really strange to the kids. They may not think they can yell for help in a store. Make sure to let them know that they can yell and they can do so LOUDLY!
Here are the “DON’TS: DON’T instruct your child to only find a policeman or security officer. Kids can often mistake any person in a suit or uniform as a policeman. Plus, when is the last time you saw a uniformed officer patrolling Safeway or Nordstrom?
Last but not least talk early and often with your kids about personal safety. At every age and stage, make sure that your kids know to never, ever, ever leave the store without the grown up they came in with. If you come in with the nanny, grandma, grandpa, mommy or daddy, you leave with them. My kids think it is a funny notion that I would never leave a store until I found them. I would stay in the store looking for them, even if I had to spend the night in the store, live of frozen pizza and pop-tarts and sleep on the marshmallow bags until I found them. And of course, I would.
About the Author: Kim Estes is the owner of Savvy Parents Safe Kids and has worked with parents for over 15 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim is a certified prevention educator through the National Security Alliance, the Kid Safe Network and is a Darkness 2 Light facilitator. As a Child Safety Expert, Kim has appeared on local and national TV and Radio shows, helping to raise awareness on the importance of prevention education. For more information about her work or to schedule a workshops go to: www.savvyparentsafekids.com