As a parent the most terrifying thing that can happen to us is to turn around and realize your child is not there. This feeling is only compounded when you are in a public place. I have experienced this feeling not only professionally, but personally as well. Every parent wants to be able to avoid this event from happening, but unless we physically tie our children to our bodies while we are out and about this is a very unrealistic dream.

According to the Center to Prevent Lost Children 90% of parents will experience losing a child at least once, and 20% have said it has happened more than once. I can only hope that the tips and suggestions that I provide can shorten or even prevent the time other parents have to experience this feeling.

I have worked for a very popular entertainment company, with tens of millions of visitor’s a year, for 15 years and have been in the security field for 7 years. Needless to say I have had my fair share of lost children to deal with. Here are some common mistakes that parents make when dealing with lost children:

  • We do not prepare ahead of time – Remind your kids of the importance of staying with you and not wandering off. Talk to you kids about what to do if you become separated. Encourage them to approach and employee or security officer if they become separated.
  • Parents go from zero to panicked faster than a Porsche can go from zero to sixty! – Remain calm, take a deep breath and gain your bearings of your environment. Take a moment to look at the immediate area around you, your child could be just on the other side of a display case or just few feet away looking at something that caught their attention.
  • Both parents go looking for the missing child! – One parent needs to stay where you last saw the child. Believe it or not the child can be near and by leaving the area you are increasing the distance between you and your child.
  • Parents don’t involve the employees or security of the establishment they are visiting in a timely manner. – Enlist the help of the employees and security teams ASAP. They know the layout of the area and it is always better to have more sets of eyes looking for the child. Also remember they do not have the emotional stress that you are experiencing at that very moment. Therefor, giving them a clearer head to assist in finding you missing child.
  • Parents don’t provide an accurate description of what their children are wearing to employees or security, especially DADS! We can never remember what our children were wearing that day.
  • When you know you are headed out for the day snap a picture on your cell phone or camera of your child. This way you know exactly what your child is wearing and the people helping you know exactly what they are wearing and what your child looks like. Plus if you don’t need to use it for the intended purpose (heaven forbid), who doesn’t like plenty of pictures of their cute kiddos!
  • Don’t let fear turn into anger – I have seen it time and time again that when a parent finds their child all the emotions erupt into them yelling at the child about how they should never walk away and how scared they were. Trust me the child is and was just as scared as you were. When you finally do find them pick them up and let them know everything is ok now and you are happy they are back and safe. If they went to an employee, praise them for doing the right thing when they sought out help. You can discuss the situation calmly later.

If the business you are at does not have security, do not hesitate to have law enforcement notified. When children are involved there is no waiting period before law enforcement will get involved.

Some other things you can do to aid in reuniting with your child is to place your contact information in their pocket, or pin it to their shirt if they have no pockets, you can also make a little charm bracelet with your phone number on it.

Sometimes children do get lost, and it is easy for parents to forget what to do in this scary situation. Many public places have standard procedures of what to do when a child is missing, so make sure employees and/or security are notified that the child is lost.

Scott Nethero is a licensed security officer and security officer instructor in the state of Florida. He holds certifications in Homeland Security and is also a certified anti-terrorism specialist. Since his absolutely lovely wife is writing this biographical information, I will also include that he has a super fantastic wife and adorable 3 1/2 year old boy/girl twins.