Losing your child in a crowd is an awful feeling, and one that every parent dreads.
Imagine turning to your child - in a shop, park, airport or fun fair - only to find they aren’t there. It's a stomach-churning thought.
It’s almost always as simple as them having wandered off somewhere more interesting but it can be a frightening experience for both of you.
As young children get more confident or curious they are more likely to go off exploring, but with a few simple rules in place, they will soon learn that unplanned time away from Mum or Dad can be upsetting for everyone and is best avoided.
1. Talk about crowds
Before you go to a crowded place like the shopping mall or the Easter Show, talk to your children about how it will be very busy and that it is important that they stay near you at all times so you don’t lose each other.
Ask that they hold onto the pram or your hand.
Explain that it will be harder for you to find each other with so many other people about. Reassure them that if you do get separated you will be looking for them.
2. Don’t panic!
Teach your children not to panic when they can’t find you. You will usually be close by.
Tell them to stay where they are and call out for you. Older children could call your name rather than shouting “Mummy” so you know they mean you.
You shouldn’t panic either, but go to the last place you saw your child and then widen your search from there.
3. Be prepared
When your child is old enough, make sure they know their name and your phone number. For younger children, you could also write all your contact details on a piece of paper and put in in your child’s pocket.
Dress your child in bright colours, easy to spot in a crowd.
Carry a recent photo of them, make a mental note of what they were wearing or snap a quick photo of them before you set out, so you can give those helping in the search visual clues.
Arrange a meeting place with older children should they get lost – the swings, the information booth or the fountain in the shopping mall.
4. Ask for help
As important as it is to teach your kids about stranger danger, they also need to learn that not all strangers are dangerous and that most people will be happy to help them.
Explain that they should choose the stranger they speak to, rather than the other way around. Tell them that if you don’t arrive soon after they call for you, to ask a friendly grown up for help.
Explain who the people to ask for help are – in a shop, it would be the sale assistant, at the pool or beach, the lifeguard, on the street a policeman or shop keeper, for example.
You should ask other people to help look for child, too. Show them your photo and tell them your child’s name and age.
5. Listen and wait
Tell older children to listen for you calling them or for their name being called over a loud speaker system.
You listen too in case your child has been found and is waiting for you.
6. Make a fuss
Don’t worry that you are wasting people’s time asking for help.
Even if your child is found in a few minutes, you will be pleased you did. Teach your children not to feel silly asking for help either.
7. Don’t get cross
When you are reunited with your child, don’t be cross with them. They may already be very upset and angry thinking it is you who left them. Or they may not even know they were being looked for, absorbed by a book or toy in a shop.
Congratulate them for taking the steps they did - staying put, asking for help etc.
8. Rewards yourselves with a big hug and lots of kisses.
You all survived a scary ordeal. Have a cuddle and reassure your child that they are fine, before enjoying the rest of your day.
Have you ever lost your child in a crowd? What did you do to stay calm and how were you reunited?