Losing Track of My Kid — And Staying Calm

Hi Readers! You’ll like this! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to thank you. On Saturday I misplaced my 6-year-old son for half an hour, long enough that we had the museum staff and state park ranger looking with us–long enough for most people to completely panic themselves and everyone around them. But I reminded myself that he loves being independent and was likely not freaked out, and most importantly, I remembered the point you make over and over: People are kind and caring. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t help a misplaced child, including people I know who’ve gone to jail. That thought was a mantra for me to keep calm, so that when we did locate him (after walking to the nearby park that was not the park we were planning to go to he went back to the car, figuring we’d show up there eventually) I wasn’t out of my mind. If I’d started freaking out, I would have made him think the world is a scary place when really, nothing bad had happened. Thank you! — A Calm Mom

38 Responses

  1. An excellent object lesson in why families (or any group really) should have a designated place to meet up if they get separated when they’re out and about. We always had one when I was growing up and it was used frequently. I think people have kind of stopped doing this so much with the advent of cell phones but they don’t work in every situation. In this case the kid figured it out on their own but not all kids would have been so clear headed (especially at such a young age).

  2. THIS is why I read and love this blog. THIS is why I recommend Free-Range parenting to all of my friends. Thank you to Calm Mom for this simple yet inspiring note.

  3. Wonderful story🙂

    And as a mom who had to keep her calm in a similar-ish situation (15yo alone in a forgein city!), knowing, and trusting that the world is a safer place than we think, mostly full of nice, caring people, I applaud you for remembering it in a stressful time!

  4. It’s wonderful to be reminded that 6-year-olds can be very
    * clued-in (remembering that the park was the next place to go)
    * curious (continuing to enjoy the museum, and try out the park)
    * aware of their environment (able to identify the car, after finding the parking lot)
    * calm
    * able to trust their intuition

  5. What a great mom and clever kid.

  6. Good for you!

  7. Yep, we have a very simple rule, if we loose each other we go back to the last place we were together. Applies to the adults and not just the kids too.

  8. Thanks for posting this story.

    I happened to come across an old photo of my sister and I together with a friend back when I was 6. What struck me about this picture (from a Free Range mindset) was how small those kids looked — yet I remember feeling very capable in those days. We played and wondered all over the neighborhood without parental supervision. At the friend’s farm, we went out in a pasture and managed to climb up on two burros and ride them without a saddle or bridle. (parents nowhere in sight)

    It would be interesting to hear others reminisce about activities they remember doing without parental supervision when they were very young.

  9. I too lost track of my 6 year old a few days ago. “He should be home by now. Why isn’t he home by now, he must be playing with some of the other kids from the bus stop. When’s he gonna get home?” Then I went looking for him (20 minutes after he should have been home) and still no kid. Turns out I had the days mixed up and it WASN’T an early-release day after all, it was a regular day, he wasn’t going to be let out of school for another 2 hours. And yet I didn’t panic. I realized there was probably a good explanation and that was the case. Of couse I also wondered, “Don’t I care enough about my kid to be worried right now?” Sigh, the traps of motherhood, feeling guilty no matter which way you go.

  10. When my niece went to a Brownie outing, I gave her a whistle with a label that said, “Blow three times if lost, or if everyone else is!”

  11. Great story, Calm Mom. Glad to see common sense in action! 🙂

  12. Reminds me of an incident with my then-3yo at a resort hotel. She is smart and independent, so I let her leave the lunch table to go find the restroom, intending to follow her there a minute later. That’s when I found out there was no restroom in the restaurant, and she had gone out into other parts of the hotel in her quest. I looked in the obvious places and checked to see if she’d asked anyone for directions. Finally I listened to her 4yo sister, who suggested she’d gone up the stairs toward our room. Sure enough, there she was, just arriving at our hotel room door when I caught up.

    I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel nervous at all. Mainly because everyone insists that kids shouldn’t be off on their own, ever – and I didn’t want to hear the “how could you do that” crap. But frankly, I did not regret it after the fact. She was not lost nor scared nor in danger at any time.

    Next time we go someplace where we aren’t familiar with the restrooms, I’ll give her better instructions on how to find it or when to come back if there isn’t one around.

  13. My then 4 year old son got misplaced in a busy children’s science museum. I would like to report that I was calm, but was freaked out a little when I saw him get on the elevator and head to another floor with an employee! Their policy is to take the kids all around the floor they are on (walking around, not staying in one place) and then they take “misplaced kids” to the main entrance and make an announcement. I would have rather that they kept him in one place and waited a few minutes to see if anyone was going to come looking for him. If my kids are “lost” I tell them to stay put and I’ll come looking for them, not to come looking for me!

  14. I had this happen last week. This year I have began to let my 8 and 10 year olds walk to school (its innerish city and several busy roads to cross) about a 1km walk.) Incidently I wanted them to walk one day a week to help me out with something but we have met a new wonderful family whose kids they walk with. I’m so happy to finally meet another like minded family and they walk nearly every day in a group of 7!!

    Anyway last week my 8 year old comes screaming in the house saying she couldnt find her sister at school after searching so they (her and her friends) convinced eachother to run home to get me.

    Immediately I first thought, this is my fault for letting them walk home. Why don’t I believe in mobile phones, if they had a phone they could have called me!! and all the other blame I could think to pile on myself.

    It was now 20 mins after school ended. I rang the school to see if my daughter was still there. While on the phone my daughter turns up absolutely sobbing that she had to walk home alone.

    Turns out she was in the toilet!!!

    the one upside is that when something does go wrong I was able to talk to them about NOT leaving until everyone is present. IF anyone is missing from their walking group, DONT run home, go to the Office. Ask them for help, and if you need to call me, make a call from there.

    It was a learning curve and helped me to chill just a bit.

  15. We lost my 8-yo niece (R) at a the water park section of an amusement park last summer. My SIL was in a dither, but when my brother found R, she couldn’t understand what the adults were so worried about! (She was still having fun!) My SIL told me later that R said, “Nothing was going to happen to me with all these people around.” Which was great, because I could then tell my SIL, “She’s right.”🙂

  16. And he was just where he ought to have been – somewhere you could easily find him! Great story!

  17. Nice going! My mother had a similar story when my brother was very young. He walked out of a department store (somehow she blamed it on my Dad. I never did find out his side of the story.) They found him alive and well and having the time of his life being the center of attention of some kind hearted folks outside.

  18. Just one thought about “Go back to the last place everybody was together”; what if there’s a difference of opinion? Much better to pick an agreed upon place and then agree on a new one if the group has gotten too far from the first.

  19. Our society really does NOT tolerate anything that smacks of ‘failure’ to ‘succeed’.

    I think we really need to redefine parental success in our society before we can fundamentally change societal expectations of parents.

    Thanks everyone for your efforts here to accomplish that very goal!

  20. I lost one of my children for the first time last year: he was 21 months old, and we too were at a large sciencey museum.

    Did I panic when I realised he wasn’t with me? No. Firstly I figured that he wasn’t exactly going to get all the way to the exit before someone noticed him. Then I told the nearest staff member.

    And then I had a bit of a free-range chuckle, as the staff member got on her radio and announced, “Attention staff, we have mislaid a small package, green coloured…” (and something cryptic about his age that I can’t remember). You know, just in case that predator was in the room he happened to have wandered to, and thought, “Aha, a missing child, I’ll claim him!” (Because, you know, good luck to him, that child would have screamed the house down rather than go with anyone who was remotely unfamiliar to him – he was at that age!)

    He was returned safe and sound within a minute or two – he’d wandered back down to the room I’d dragged him away from, where he was playing with some toy ducks! He’s a persistent little booger!

  21. Reminds me of the time I let my 2 and 3 year-old girls, their 6-year-old brother, his same-age friend and his 8-year-old sister walk down from the top of a hill through a path that cut into bush. We (my friend and I) agreed with the kids that we would meet them at a second carpark 5 minutes walk down the hill (this was a reserve with multiple carparks), that the 8-year-old was familiar with (we thought!). Well, we ended up standing by our cars and chatting for a few minutes, and then, when we got to the carpark – no kids. Fine, we’ll wait a few minutes. After 10 minutes, no sign of them, so we started walking up and down the path looking out for them. After 45 minutes, when we still couldn’t find said children, I must confess to a bit of panic, not actually over any danger to the kids, but at the idea of having to report to the police that I’d let my toddlers go walkabout without an adult! (Also, this path leads miles down into the city, and after 45 minutes they’d had time to reach city streets and potentially get themselves really lost!) However, just like mostly happens, a lovely pair of ladies found us, all our kids piled into the back of their tiny car! Thank God for the kindness of strangers!

  22. We “lost” my 6 year old son on the Disney Cruise which has to be one of the safest places to loose a kid since they all have wrist bands for ID, every staff on the ship has a digital pager, etc. The problem was that my independent son didn’t think of himself as lost. While I admit to being worried, I was quite proud of him for being so independent! I guess it’s okay and normal for us to be worried but it’s a beautiful thing if we’ve taught our kids not to panic and freak out if they are separated from us.

  23. I’ve lost one of my kids multiple times. Including once in a foreign country. I really do try to watch him, but I’m not going to hover over him and he’s pretty determinedly off in his own world. Every single time it has been fine. We find him. Sometimes we get security to help us look. When the kids were smaller, if we were in crowded places (children’s museums, festivals, etc.) I would write my cell phone number on their arms and they knew to show it to someone if they got lost. Then, as soon as we could, they memorized the number with a little jingle. Last time (time number 6 or 7 we’ve lost this kid…), at the Renaissance Festival in the fall, my wandering son found a friendly looking dad out with his kids and went forthrightly up to him and had him call me. We were reunited soon thereafter. Plan worked.

  24. This is a great story. Almost the same thing happened to me not too long ago. We were at Walmart and my 6-year-old got mad about something and stomped off. I figured he had gone back to electronics to get the game he wanted so I wasn’t worried. I calmly walked to electronics but he wasn’t there. I went back to the deli section where my husband was to let him know I was going to the toy aisle to look for him. All of a sudden I heard them call my name over the loudspeaker to go to customer service. I went and of course, there he was. He couldn’t find us so he went right to customer service to have us paged. He wasn’t scared, he was confident and knew exactly what to do.

  25. Well done, calm mama.🙂

    I’m reminded of being a girl scout and learning early on to “hug a tree” if we were to get lost. I suppose that works in the woods, and not Target or the supermarket, but I think I’m going to begin talking with my little one about staying put if we were to get separated. At this point, she’s my little helper by my side (or riding in the cart), but it is a good idea to start planting these seeds early! Good or bad – kids really do listen to so much more than we realize and can make really good choices.

  26. Well, to have thought so much and be so rational in short period of time is only testament to what a level headed person you are. Well done and so glad to hear your child was alright.

  27. I always remember heading to the car as a kid if we were separated in the store. It’s good. Smart thinking on the part of the kid (though I support the idea of a predetermined meeting spot). Besides, apparently if a kid is in a car by himself, someone will call the cops and problem is solved. 😉

  28. Sounds like your child has a free range thinking head on his shoulders, well done for not freaking out you did a great job, brilliant mums make extrodinary kids.
    It’s not what we say so much that matters but more what we do.

  29. So it turns out after looking through these posts that losing your child is a regular occurance for parents at some stage of child rearing, i don’t feel so bad after all.

  30. It’s in situations like this that I now give each of my children a piece of paper with my name and cell phone number (and my husband’s or mother’s if either of them is with us) and instructions to get an adult to phone me if we get separated. My older one, who is notoriously unobservant and absentminded (he’s been known to forget statements like “I’ll be sitting on that bench right over there while you look around”), has made good use of that piece of paper.

  31. I lose my kid all the time. She has a tendency to wander off in stores because she is 7, and I shop for boring things. When she can’t find me again, she walks up and down the aisles, calling, “Marco!” until I answer, “Polo!” I’ve gotten mixed reactions on this. Some people laugh and think it’s clever, others give me dirty looks because I am a horrible mother who lets her kid wander off without supervision.

    All this parental hovering just stymies me. Sure, I want my kid to be safe. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, but I also want to shop in peace, and it’s nearly impossible to do that with a bored 7 year old complaining vociferously. I love my kids but sometimes I just want them to go away so I can have some peace and quiet. And sometimes they want me to go away so they can do their thing too. If I let them have their time and independence, we all appreciate our together time that much more.

  32. Just another funny story…

    At a family gathering, the kids, between the ages of 3 and 7, were outside playing. At some point, the wandered out of the yard and down a walking path into the nearby park (which is about 100 yards away). The house we were at is on a cul-de-sac in a planned development, so traffic was not an issue, and you can see the park from the house. After a while, we realized it was pretty quiet outside, so we checked on the kids, and saw they were gone. My sisters in law immediately freaked out, and were planning to jump in cars and begin patrolling the neighborhood. I said, they’re little, they have short legs, and they’re dragging a three year old. They couldn’t get very far, and it’s almost lunch time. They’ll be back soon enough. They’re probably in the park. One of my SIL’s was apalled at my blase attitude about the whole thing, and asked me, “Don’t you care that your child is MISSING?” I responded, “Not reallly, because she’s not missing. She won’t go too far, and she knows how to get back.”

    Sure enough, after a few minutes of calling her name, all the kids came trooping up the path from the park, covered in mud, the oldest (mine) holding the three year old’s hand. She even made them all stop and check for cars before they crossed the cul-de-sac.

    Of course, my SIL’s didn’t get the point that it showed that kids are a lot smarter and more capable than we give them credit for, and they couldn’t understand why I was so proud of my seven year old for taking charge of the little ones. (I did speak to her about asking permission to leave the yard, so I know where she’s going and can find her if I need to.)

  33. This reminded me of the summer before last when my almost 3 year old wandered away from me and vanished. I admit I panicked a bit – she had decided to go to the play ground. She apparently had crossed a busy street with a group of other fair goers to go to the playground. When I found her she was with two women who noticed she was alone and was trying to sort out who she was. Not that I would advocate letting a two year old cross a main street and go to the playground alone – but my daughter is one of those movers – she has run off in stores etc. and vanished for 10 minutes before we could find her, She has never come to harm.

  34. Two weeks ago, on my daughter’s 4th birthday, we met family at a huge resorty hotel for a celebration. At the end of our time in the arcade, I was helping her 5 yo brother ‘buy’ prizes with his tickets, turned around to leave and she was gone. We looked for about 20 minutes, my cousins (also parents of simlarly aged kids) commenting the whole time at how calm I was. Inside, I was a little nervous, but I just kept assuring myself that she was fine, she has a history of doing her own thing, had left on her own, and it’s extremely unlikely that she was abducted or in danger, so why go there.

    Turns out, she decided to go back to the room, 5 floors up, on her own. She knew our room number, got in the elevator, asked an adult to push the floor for her, and walked to the room on her own…(I have to say I chuckle at what the elevator helper must have thought, but my daughter is very self assured). My aunt was in the room, and a freaked out a little.

    I told her I was proud she knew how to get back to the room, but she needs to tell me where she is going and I want her to go with an adult in the future. My cousins thought she should have had some huge punishment…

  35. Here’s a couple of pretty funny firsthand stories about lost kids.

    At age eight, I got separated from my family at Six Flags Over Texas, an enormous amusement park on a busy summer day. I remember walking along next to a pair of slacks and shoes the same color as my dad’s, only to look up and discover it wasn’t him! My reaction? I spent the next two hours going on all the rides by myself, including the scary Haunted House.

    It never occurred to me there was a problem until my parents came running up to me with a security guard. By then, I was hungry, so I was at least glad to get fed. My mom was furious that I was so blasé about the whole thing, but my dad really got a kick out of it. They had been getting reports about me, but because I kept moving around so much and the place was jammed, it took two hours to locate me.

    In 1962, my dad walked my five year old brother to his first day of kindergarten in New York City. After making sure he remembered the two block route home, my dad left him for the day since my brother was expected to come home on his own. In 1962, lots of kids walked to school, even kindergarteners in big scary NYC.

    Unfortunately, the school released the kids out a door on the opposite side of the building, and my brother wandered off in that direction. He was picked up by the police as it was winter and getting dark early, but he refused to give them his name unless they turned on their lights and siren! They obliged so he gave his name as “Barry,” which is his middle name. It of course did not match any of the names on that day’s missing persons list, so he sat in the police station for several hours with cops trying to bribe him with candy into telling the truth, until someone thought to check whether any of the missing had a “Barry” in their name.

    My dad said “Barry” looked like he was having a great time when he walked into the police station to claim his son. He was sitting high up on the seargent’s desk eating candy and wearing a policeman’s hat!

  36. Hi lskenaz, You did a great job smartly. You use you intelligence power at the time your kid was misplaced. You are a brave mom and your kid also will be a brave man like you.

    All the BEST
    Sprog Blogs

  37. I’ve lost each of my kids once in a public place, one at age 4 and one at age 6. I’d like to say both had a clever free range head on their shoulders, but both opted for the same solution: walk around looking for me for 3 minutes, and then stand in place and cry until an adult comes up to help.

    In neither case was I freaked out – I knew they’d turn up, but I do wish they would follow the rules they are very good at repeating – if you are lost, stay calm and find either (1) a person who works there or (2) a mom with kids and ask for help. They are the ones who freak out, alas. Of course, they solved the problem in thier own way, I suppose…

    I like the idea when at fairs and other crowded venus to put our cell phone number on them. Of course, my 7 year old has it memorized now, but I might write it on her hand anyway just in case she’s freaked and can’t recall.

  38. When my kids were little (and even now that they are adults) we always identified the place we would meet up if we were separated. And three weeks after we moved to a rural area from their native city, the five-year-old vanished at the county fair somewhere in the sheep barn. My brand new husband took off for him and I took my 8-year-old daughter to the fire-fighters’ encampment we’d seen when we first entered the grounds. In a few minutes I saw my husband, a cop, and the kid coming to me. He had gone up to the cop and said he had been separated from his family and needed directions to the firefighters– didn’t ask for an escort, just directions🙂. Just then my husband saw them, but the cop wouldn’t let him go with him until they confirmed it with me. I could live with that, since the kid said, accurately, “No, he’s not my father,” and didn’t get a chance to say, “… but he just married my mother.” Kid was completely calm, knew just what to do and was doing it. Nothing like it.

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