If your kid is a runner like mine, you know the tension headache that can result from repeatedly swivelling your head to make sure they’re still by your side and haven’t run off and disappeared into a crowd. Our son Lucas, from the moment it occurred to him his legs could get him places, made it his mission to explore every detail of his environment.
It made no difference if the object of his curiosity was in the direction we were headed or not; if he wanted it, he ran for it. And yes, sometimes he slipped right out of sight.
These brief moments of not being able to locate your kid are enough to almost give a mama a heart attack, so we had to come up with a quick and reliable way to get Lucas’s attention and draw him back to us.
Enter the family whistle
Have you read or seen The Hunger Games? Rue teaches Katniss a four-note whistle they use to signal one another when their part of the plan has been executed.
Our family whistle works the same way — it’s a covert but effective way to communicate in situations where yelling isn’t the best option. (And who wants to yell in public, anyway?)
Especially when he was little, our son wandered off frequently. I got pretty tired of screaming “Lucas!” in public places. To be honest, it made me feel like a bad mum. I was watching him, I really was, but the kid was quick. And every time I had to shout for him, people would turn and stare.
It felt as though everyone was judging me for not being able to keep track of my child.
With our whistle, which is three sharp ascending notes, I can call Lucas back without having to use my voice at all. People hardly notice when I use the whistle. We’ve taught Lucas that if he hears it, it means he needs to come right away. He’s not disobedient, just inattentive, so when he hears it, he does come running.
I’ve used it just about everywhere — the mall, the grocery store, a nature trail, Disney World, even outside when he’s biking at the other end of the street and needs to come home for dinner.
We taught Lucas the whistle too, so he could signal us in return. It’s become a way of saying, “I hear you, I’m coming!” When our daughter Mari came along, we taught her too, though she was slower to learn to whistle and had to sing the notes for a while, which was actually super adorable—a two-year-old sing-whistling to get her daddy’s attention.
Not that this whistle technique negates the need for other safety measures. We still made sure both kids have our cell phone numbers memorized forward and backward. If they get really lost and the whistle doesn’t work, our kids are supposed to find someone in uniform and ask them to borrow their phone to call Mum or Dad.
But for brief, short-distance separations, the whistle has been a huge timesaver as well as a voice-saver. Most of the time, no one seems to notice we’re doing it, but every now and then someone will catch me whistling and then spot Lucas running around a corner to return to my side, and they stare in wide-eyed wonder. “That is genius,” they say.
“Just like in The Hunger Games,” I tell them, “except thankfully nobody has to volunteer as tribute.”