How to Keep Track of Kids in a Crowd
by Katie Beltramo
Navigating a big crowd of people with your child can be unnerving. You'll feel much better, have more fun together, and be safer if you follow these tips to help you stay together in the first place or reconnect if you've lost each other.
Have Your Child Wear Something Bright.
A neon-bright t-shirt or hat will help catch your eye in the crowd. If lighting will be dim or dark, get glow-in-the-dark accessories that are fun and functional for visibility.
Wear or Bring Something to Make You Stand Out, Too.
Ever notice those tour guides carrying around umbrellas? When it's not shielding their heads from rain, it's a beacon to their groups. Choose to wear a bright hat, bring a scarf you can wave like a banner, or something else to signal your child. If you're with a group, you might consider a bandana or shirt to help you quickly identify each other. Be sure your child knows to look for this signal with a pre-outing chat.
Talk To Your Child Before You Arrive.
It's always a good idea to talk about sticking together before you get to your destination. The substance of this talk depends on your child's personality. A happy-go-lucky "flight risk" might need stern warnings and threats, while a fretful child might need reassurance that everything will be okay and helpful people are available.
Discuss Asking For Help.
Depending on who you are or where you're going, your child's best potential helpers may be different. Police officers, lifeguards, staff members, or someone wearing a matching t-shirt at the company outing to an amusement park might be good choices. A universally good choice is an obvious mother of young children. It's easy for even the youngest children to understand, and, let's face it, moms rock. When my 12-year-old and her friends got separated from me at a park, they headed to the nearest stroller to call me.
Ensure Your Child Has Your Cell Phone or other Pertinent Contact Information
Don't rely on your child's memory, and don't even rely on a slip of paper in a pocket. Make a laminated card that you can pin onto clothes or even write information directly on your child's forearm with a permanent marker. If your child is very little, be sure that the information is obvious and easy to find. If your child is older, talk about the best method to keep numbers handy so they feel included in sharing this responsibility. Other information might be pertinent, too. For example, if you're at a stadium or a theater, you could write down your seat numbers.
Take a Photo of Your Child.
You don't have to say, "This is a picture to give to police in case you get abducted." Just take a photo as a celebration of your arrival at wherever-you-happen-to-be and the fortunate by-product is that you'll have a recent photo in today's outfit.
Decide Who's Watching Whom.
If you have multiple adults watching one or more children, it can be easy to assume that Grandma's got the preschooler, for example. Don't make assumptions! Instead, spell it out by telling other adults whom you'll be watching and giving them their own assignments, then pledge to check in if you decide to switch. There's a reason why we hear people yelling "Mark a man!" when we're watching soccer: it's effective.
Consider High-Tech Options.
There are actually GPS tracking devices designed to keep track of kids. Here's an article reviewing some options.
Consider Low-Tech Options.
If your child is wearing a basic whistle on a lanyard, one good blow of the whistle can be a quick way to alert adults, and it's uncommon enough that you probably don't need to work out a Captain Von Trapp-style code. Unless you want to. Some parents opt for a leash or tethered backpack. That was never our family's style, but you should do what's best for your family.
Don't Forget the Baby.
I am not even kidding about this one. Once upon a time, a family member just walked away from our newborn in a stroller. This person hadn't quite adjusted to life with the latest sibling. My advice? Strap that little directly to your body! But, really, the same sort of thing can happen if you're doing something outside of the routine, like bringing a cousin along. Once again, assigning people specifically helps with this, too, of course. But I also couldn't resist telling the story!
Tell Big Kids to Stick Together.
At a certain point, walking right with parents becomes the last thing older kids want to do. You can insist, of course, but if you'd like to allow a little freedom for older kids, allow them some space as long as they pledge to stick together. They could still get lost, of course, but they'll be safer and calmer in a group.
Choose a Place to Meet.
If you're in a relatively small area, you might choose a central location as a meeting point. You can designate that the meeting place if you get separated or a place to check in at regular intervals. If you're traveling over a larger area, keep in mind that kids can move quickly and, in my experience, they will make the most illogical choices possible (this is purely anecdotal, but man, do I have some anecdotes!). Instruct your child to stay in one place or go to the nearest possible helper ( a mother, police officer, staff member, or whomever you've discusses) and stay put until you've been reunited or at least contacted.
Chances are, your child won't get lost. If they get lost, you'll likely find them quickly. Most people are likely to be friendly, kind, and helpful--especially where you're going, because you think it's a good place to bring your kids. So plan carefully, then do your best to relax and have fun.
© 2017, Katie Beltramo