We were all ready to have a blast at a friend’s baby’s first birthday party.
We alighted from the taxi and made our way to the condo’s function room. We had been here a number of times, so we were familiar with the surroundings.
Our littlest one, an active two and a half year old, stood peering through the railing that separated the function room area from the swimming pool. As usual, he was mesmerised by the water.
I walked on ahead with the husband, and called for our children to follow behind. Older sister came running, and I thought the toddler boy was close behind.
Once in the function room, we were busy saying our hellos and looking for the birthday boy. The husband was distracted by the food, and so was older sister.
Then suddenly, someone asked, “Where’s JJ?”
I looked and blinked and scanned the room for his little head, usually bobbing up and down. He would usually follow daddy like a tail, but when I saw daddy, there was no JJ in tow.
I gestured to his godfather with a dangerously blur look on my face that said “I don’t know”.
He asked if I was joking. Twice. Then he realised that I wasn’t.
I walked out of the room in a calm but frenzied state. The godfather overtook me to the end of the walkway, near where JJ had been peering through the railing. He disappeared at the turn and soon I heard my child’s cries. It was like music to my ears.
We found JJ near the lobby where we had alighted. Somehow, he had instinctively retraced his footsteps back to the lobby. (Thankfully, there was a guard around keeping an eye on him to prevent him from running out onto the driveway.)
I never felt so lost until that moment when I thought that we had lost our youngest child. For the rest of the day, I felt like a terrible mum.
That night, the father and I discussed the safety measures we would have to take. We contemplated the possibility of getting a backpack with reins, but eventually decided that we would work on a buddy system instead. He will be JJ’s buddy, while I will watch over big sister. (The father is a lot more mobile and JJ also prefers to hang around him whenever we are outdoors.)
After the incident, I did some research on the Internet and found some useful tips (on top of my own ideas) to help prevent such an incident from happening again. I hope you never get to use these, but it’s always better to be prepared and safe, than sorry.
Basic prevention and safety tips:
1) Assign one parent to one child like a buddy system. If you are outnumbered, pair up your oldest child with a younger one so you have an extra pair of hands and eyes.
2) Every time you arrive at a shopping mall, bring your child to the information counter and teach him how to look for the big bright “i” that is usually displayed prominently. Tell him to come to the information counter if he is lost, and to ask the counter personnel to page for you, or to call you on your mobile phone.
3) Teach them about safe strangers versus potentially dangerous strangers, and to approach a mother with a child, or a store assistant, for help. Use books like The Berenstein Bears Learn About Strangers to help introduce the concept in a child-friendly way.
4) Teach your child to memorise your name and mobile number. If you are in a foreign country or if your child is too young, you may let him wear an identification tag (attached securely to his clothing) with your name and contact number.
5) Get the kids to do a practice drill in a safe environment, i.e. a place where you can observe your child from a distance and help him if necessary. If you have more than one child, allow your children to do such drills alone, as well as together.
6) Use backpack reins on your active toddler if you are in crowded places, or in a foreign country.
What to do if your child is lost:
1) Remain calm and search the immediate area around you carefully. More likely than not, your child has not wandered far, and could be just around the corner, behind a pillar, or distracted by some toys in a store window.
2) If your child is indeed lost, enlist the help of the security staff or employees of the shopping mall / amusement park as soon as you can. They can help to send out an alert to other employees to look out for your child. They are also more familiar with the layout of the area.
3) Try your best to accurately describe what your child is wearing. Sometimes it helps to take a photo of your child just before entering a busy shopping mall, just in case.
4) Don’t go looking for your child together with your husband. Make sure that one parent stays put at the spot where you last saw your child, as he could be nearby, or be able to retrace his steps to the point where he first started.
If you have any tips or experiences to share with us, do leave us a comment!
*Main image credit: Penny Matthews