As parents, our job is to keep our children safe. When traveling, that job doesn’t change, but the surroundings and dangers are different from at home. Here are ideas for ways to prevent losing your kids in crowds. Even the most compliant children could get separated in a crowd, so you need to have a plan to make sure your child is safe. (Every Tuesday I post new travel tips on this site. Be sure to check back each week for a new tip! Subscribe to our emails to be notified of new posts.) Looking for specific tips? Comment below or on our social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and I’ll write a blog post just for you!
Prevent Losing Your Kids in Crowds
Develop a Plan
Most children, when they get separated from their parents, naturally tend to run around looking for them. Once in the grocery store, my daughter thought she lost me but was only about 5 feet away. I watched her panic and start to run down the aisle (of course she was running away from where I was standing). I called her name and was quickly reunited, but you can see how it can be dangerous if the child follows their instinct to run looking for you. They are more likely to become lost!
I tell my children that if they get separated from me, they should sit down right where they are and then yell for me. This will aid me in finding them and keep them safe from becoming even more lost. We practice this any time we are in a retail store that doesn’t have many customers. I walk around the corner and they pretend to be lost, then sit on the floor and call for me. I started this practice when they were about 2, so that it would become an instinctual response. (I must give credit where it’s due: I first heard this idea from my sister-in-law, who did this with her kids.)
If your children are older they may be able to safely find a prearranged meeting spot if you get separated. Be sure to talk about where that might be as soon as you enter a crowded venue.
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Make sure that your child has your name and phone number on them in one way or another. I have bracelets made that include the child’s name, my name and phone number, and my husband’s name and phone number. The following are a few ideas for wearable ID:
1. Road ID: My daughter used to wear this all the time. Her dad wears a Road ID every time he goes for a bicycle ride, and she wanted to be like him. If your child often runs away from you this is the form of ID I would recommend. You can buy the original ID or Interactive. The Interactive feature includes Emergency Response support. For $9.99/year (first year free), your ID lists a website where emergency personnel can find your emergency contacts and medical information. Again, if your child runs away a lot, this is a really good option! SmartKidsID has a similar bracelet, with an app to store information that can be shared with emergency personnel.
2. Paper Bracelets: I ordered a set of these paper ID bracelets and they’re great for keeping in your travel bag. Put one on anytime you’re headed out into a crowd and then just cut it off at the end of the day. If your child is not fond of wearing the bracelet on the wrist, you could put it around an ankle or belt loop.
3. Sharpie: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to help keep your child safe. If you don’t have ID bracelets you could just use a Sharpie Permanent Marker to write your name and phone number on their body. I would recommend writing on their stomach for a place that’s out of sight but easy to remember.
4. Dog Tags: Another option would be to have a necklace made with your information on it. You could order something like these dog tags. If you have family in the military, then your child might be excited to be like them.
Easier said than done, right? My nearly four year old son thinks it is so funny to run away when I yell “STOP!” From ages 1.5-3.5 I always regretted it when I didn’t use the Backpack Harness. He just couldn’t control his impulse to run. Here are four things that have worked (at times) to keep my kids near me in busy places:
- Quack Like a Duck: A pilot told me he did this with his kids when they traveled through airports: Play a game where the adult is the Mama Duck and the kids are the ducklings. Have the kids follow you and quack at regular intervals so you know they are near. This is a great way to sneak in a lesson on nature and animal behavior.
- Backpack Harness: As mentioned above, the backpack harness is a great way to keep your young children close and safe. If you are afraid of being judged by others for “leashing” your child, don’t be. I took an unofficial Facebook survey and found that only a tiny percentage of the general population frowns on these harnesses and most people understand that it can be a life-saving device as it keeps your children near you and out of harm’s way. Read this post to see how I almost lost my son as he ran up the jet bridge and into the airport terminal before I could catch him. You can tolerate a few judgmental stares when you know you’re doing what’s best for your child’s safety.
- Push the Cart: If your children don’t want to hold hands or you don’t have a free hand to hold theirs, put them to work! Have your child help push the cart, suitcase, or stroller. You might have to move more slowly, but if it prevents having to take off in a mad dash to catch the little runaway, it will save you time in the long run. As a bonus, pushing weight is a great form of “heavy work”, which helps to calm your child as it helps regulate sensory input. (Read this post for other ideas on ways to incorporate calming activities in your travel day.)
- Stop and Go: This worked for my daughter, but not my son. When she was a toddler, we went to an open park and practiced “stop and go”. I would call out, “Go!” while also using the sign (American Sign Language) for “go”. I let her run a little while then called out, “STOP!” while using the sign for “stop”. I got in front of her, signing right in front of her body so she would have that visual along with my vocal commands. We played this game several times a week and after a few weeks she automatically responded when I called out “stop”.
Plan for Trains/Buses/Elevators
Train and bus doors close quickly, and much of the time they don’t reopen like an elevator door would if you put your arm or bag out to stop them from closing. When I was 8 months pregnant with my son, I was in New York City with some friends. The subway train was packed and we were squished into the middle of the car. When we got to our stop, it was difficult to get off the train because of the crowd. By the time I got to the doors, they were closing. I tried to quickly jump out when the doors closed right on my pregnant belly! Luckily I put my arm up between my stomach and the door, so I could keep the door from squashing my baby. But I couldn’t get in or out of the train! There were several moments of panic when a man finally jumped up and pried the doors open and I jumped out before the train started to move.
3 Things to Review
- Map out your stop. Before traveling by bus or train with your kids, look at a map with them. Show them where you are and where you are going. If you can get a paper map, highlight the route and give them a copy to carry with them.
- Tell your child to wait where they are if they get off the train/bus and you don’t. Teach them the same for elevators. It will be quicker and safer for you to back track to get to them then for them to try to find you.
- Instruct your child to get off at the next stop if they miss your stop and are separated from you. You’ll then know where they are waiting and can take the next train/bus/elevator, or even a cab to get to them.