So the unthinkable happened to me this week; I actually lost one of my children. Rest assured, within a few minutes she was back with.
A little background; we were in Burnaby on the SFU campus for a work related thing I was doing and because my kids enjoy being on the SFU campus, I decided to have them come along on the trip with me.
We stopped for a snack and after we were done, I told the girls I was going to the washroom (located about 20 feet away) to wash my hands. Brown Bear came with me. And I realize now, Blonde Bear somehow didn’t hear me say we were going to wash up. So I went into the washroom with one kid and left the other sitting at the table where we had all been sitting. Or so I thought.
We have spoken to our children any number of times about what to do in the very unlikely event that they do get separated from us while we are out of the house with the key message for them to stay where they are; don’t wander off looking for us.
The bad news is that in spite of all the training we have done, all the talking about what to do in case you get lost, none of that worked in this case.
Even though we have reinforced this message countless times, in this instance rather than staying put, she didn’t stay put, in fact she wandered off. And she didn’t just wander a little way, she wandered way off.
Key point to remember – do not assume anything with children!!
Looking back at the situation it is very interesting to think about how I reacted. As the gravity of the situation settled on me I could feel my stomach tightening and my head start spinning. I felt the panic and fear that probably any parent would feel if their child had gone missing.
Key point #2 – stay calm!! You MUST fight the urge to panic and STAY CALM!!
However, in spite of the fear and panic that I could feel inside of me, I knew that I had to remain calm and deal with the situation absolutely logically and clinically in order to make sure that I got my kid back in my arms as soon as possible.
The very first thing I did was think about what my best strategy for recovering my daughter was. Seeing as I had my other other daughter with me at the time, I decided that she would probably get more help and positive attention if she was moving around yelling her sister’s name.
Key point #3 – you MUST very quickly develop a flexible plan!!
I figured that a little kid would probably be more of a sympathetic character to other people nearby rather than if it was just me yelling a girls name.
So I made sure she understood where our meeting place was and that we were to remain in eye contact of one another and then I sent her off to search for her sister, while calling her sisters name.
At the same time I went and looked at the possible routes that did my other daughter could have disappeared down.
Key point #4 – establish a perimeter.
Essentially I was creating a perimeter of sight in each direction to see if I could see her.
My strategy of having my other daughter calling her sisters name paid off almost immediately. Another young person noticed her and asked if she was looking for a little girl. My daughter said yes and then the other person said she had seen a little girl walking alone.
Now we had a confirmed siting point to work from.
We knew the directions that she had most likely travelled and so we went with that as our most reliable point to follow. Interestingly, the direction we were told she was moving was in a direction that I would not have assumed that she would have traveled.
Key point #5 – stay flexible and continually assess the situation.
Here’s where I made another assumption; I assumed my daughter had wandered off and was not abducted. We were in a university setting where the vast majority of people are students or staff so I went forward with the assumption that she had wandered off looking for me.
We continued our strategy of having my daughter moving forward calling her sister’s name and getting attention from people around her. Again this paid off as we moved forward through the building.
Within two or three minutes (which seemed like hours at the time) of us searching in the direction we had chosen, a young man and a woman approached us with my daughter at her side.
My daughter was obviously in distress. Her eyes were very misty but she was holding herself together very stoically. Unfortunately for her when she saw me her stoic attitude melted and she turned into a sobbing weeping mess.
Key point #6 – you MUST be the rock your kid will need. Suppress the urge to PANIC.
Luckily for me, I didn’t turn into the sobbing weeping mess that I wanted to.
I simply reached out and took my daughters hand and said “hey there you are! I’m glad we found you so quickly.”
Me remaining calm even in that instance in spite of all the feelings that I was experiencing helped her cope with what I can only imagine what was an incredibly stressful moment for her.
Interestingly, another thing I frequently do before entering a busy place with my kids is I get them to stand together and I snap a quick picture of them.
I’m always snapping pics of them so this is just another normal, “oh Dad hurry up and get your picture” sort of thing. But in the back of my mind, the pic is so that in the unlikely case they get separated from me and I do need to get help locating them, I’ve got a picture of what they look like with what they are wearing that day.
I’m not sure how else to approach the situation any differently other than to keep talking to kids about the right thing to do in “emergency” situations. Maybe having a real life practice session is also helpful?
The bottom line is that both my kids are safe. We have talked about what we learned and what we could do differently if this ever happened again. And we are almost ready to laugh about the scare we all had.