When my son was four, my husband and I took him and his then two-year-old sister to spend the day on a Florida beach.
The scene was picture perfect: The sun was shining, we’d managed to remember sunscreen and beach toys, and both kids were content to build sand castles in front of our beach blanket. When my husband offered to take the kids for a walk down the beach, I was grateful for a little time to catch up on my beach reading.
When my husband returned, I was standing near the water’s edge. Both kids were walking toward me and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my son walk past me. I assumed he was headed to our beach blanket.
He wasn’t, though.
Unbeknown to us as we chatted about where to go for lunch, he kept walking in the other direction, along the water’s edge, unaware that his father had stopped to talk to me.
In a split second, our lives changed. We couldn’t find our son in the sea of sunbathers and beach games. With terror rising in my chest, I started screaming for him and, thankfully, other beach goers quickly jumped in to help us look.
We eventually found him, well down the beach, sitting with a kindly elderly couple, holding a huge ice cream cone they’d bought for him when they realised he was panicked he couldn’t find his parents. We gratefully (and tearfully) thanked them and, when I asked him what he did when he realised we were gone, he said, “I didn’t know who to ask for help, Mummy.”
I realised I needed to give my son a concrete way to look for help in the event he was separated from us again.
While we often tell our small children to look for a police officer if they are lost, the truth of the matter is that police officers aren’t readily available in the aisles of grocery stores or at crowded school sporting events. And for some children, an officer’s uniform can seem frightening or overwhelming.
I needed to give my son a reference point he’d understand, even at his young age. So I told him that if he was ever lost or separated from me again, he should look for a mum or dad with a stroller (or another parent with young kids in a grocery cart).
Small children all recognise that strollers are usually accompanied by mums or dads with small children. A stroller is easy to spot and is often a comforting, familiar sight for a little one.
As a mother who has helped her fair share of scared kids at the pool, grocery store and community events, I know, too, that my stroller was always loaded with hand wipes, extra bottled water, and comforting toys, books and other items that can help a scared child.
Of course, no parent wants to lose their child in a department store, but the fact is that kids are fast — in a split second, they can wander off and become truly lost.
Telling your child to look for a stroller if they are ever scared or alone will help them focus in what could be a scary few minutes. In the unlikely event that you can’t get to your child quickly, a parent with a stroller will always know just what to do to help your child find a safe place to wait for you.
For part of my childhood, from about 9 to 13 years old, I lived in a house with a creek just beyond its backyard. I’d go down to my friend’s house on the corner and we’d “creek-walk” our way up the street and around our neighbourhood.
This tactic works for adults, too.
Recently, I was at a business conference and I was finding it hard to connect with attendees. While in the ladies’ room, I noticed, you guessed it, a mum with a stroller who was struggling to finish changing her little one’s nappy. I smiled and offered to entertain the baby while she, a fellow conference attendee, washed her hands and cleaned the changing table area.
After we walked out of the bathroom, we realised were both headed to the hotel restaurant, and she smiled and said, “Would you like to join me for lunch?”
Turns out we were both feeling a little lost, and I was never so grateful to see a mum with a stroller.