What should I tell my three year old to do if she gets lost?

I’m having trouble getting a workable safety strategy together for my three and a half year old daughter. In a shop, if I’m with her, she should go and stand by the door and stay there - or tell the person working the cash register that she’s lost me. However, if she gets lost somewhere in the town, I’m not sure what to tell her. I don’t think she quite gets the idea of who’s “trustworthy” and who’s not, particularly given that it’s hard enough for adults to know that. It’s be great to tell her to go to a police officer, but you don’t see many of them these days. It’s rare enough to be remarked on.

Any suggestions appreciated.


I would assume that most people in a uniform (ie mailman, UPS man, Walmart greeter and such) are working and not activly seeking to kidnap children. A mother with kids might also be a good choice.

My mom used to tell me, alternately (and weirdly conflictingly) to a) stay right where I was, and then b) look for a policeman. If you can’t find a policeman, c) look for somebody in a uniform. (I dont’ think this is the greatest advice in the world.) d) find somebody who is working. I think that’s actually pretty decent - she used to play a game with me, “who works here?” So I learned to spot cashiers and waitresses and such.

I have friends who were told “find a lady with kids”, which isn’t bad advice either - but all that begs the question, what if there’s none of these people anywhere? I mean, if you lose your kid in the warehouse district, somebody probably did something dumb, but who knows what will happen?

This is unhelpful advice, maybe, but a kid that age is too little to follow any kind of instructions in your absence. Don’t lose her, in short. When they’re older, the best advice is “Stay put as soon as you realize you’re lost.” Easier to find a kid where you’ve last seen her than if she’s wandering around looking for you or somebody else.

Ditto the mother with kids thing; It’s also probably better for the child to approach any group of people for help than it is to approach a lone individual.

She’s been told “look for a lady” and will happily reel it off when we’re discussing other safety issues. Even if I’m talking about something else, she’ll interrupt and point out that if she’s lost in the street, she should look for a lady and tell her. I’m unhappy with this solution, it doesn’t seem good enough for her just to go to any random female, but it shows me at least that she could remember the instructions. She’s good at that kind of thing, as long as it’s something fairly short and simple.

The “stay put” advice seems the most practical, in terms of helping me find her quickly. I’d still sooner there was something she could look for, though. I like the idea of “who works here”.

:rolleyes: Okay, what have I got wrong this time?

Looks like he is wondering why you lost her in the first place. :rolleyes:

Mm, helpful. Kids get lost, okay? It hasn’t happened yet, but if it does, I’d like her to be ready.

My husband and I have established a “lost plan”, because I’m about as bad as a three-year-old for wandering away and losing him. :wink:

1)* Stay where you last saw the other person for ten minutes.* Your daughter probably can’t tell time, so tell her to sing three of her songs to herself before moving on.

  1. Everywhere we go, we establish a location to meet up if we get seperated. If you go to a mall, or a big store, point to the Service Desk, and tell her to go there if you don’t come to find her before she gets done singing the songs.

Make sure she knows your full name, and address. Little kids often are confused when people ask for their mommy’s name-- “It’s just Mommy!” If you think she might be too young to remember this, give her her own “key ring” to put in her little purse which has all the information on it, and tell her to show it to people.

Tell her not to panic that you will always find her. A panicking child can’t give clear information.

Teach her to scream “I don’t know you!” if a stranger ever picks her up or tries to drag her away with them. People will ignore a child who is just “throwing a fit”, but if she screams this, people may intervene.

Practice these things. Make it a silly game. Put on a hat or a fake mustache and pretend to be a stranger. (Teach her that strangers don’t always look scary.) Have her recite your name and address for an ice cream cone. Play “store.” Have her go to the kitchen and say politely, “I can’t find my mommy.”

Show her pictures of police officers so she knows not to fear them, and when you go into stores, point out the uniforms of the employees. Introduce her to a police officer if you see one on the street so she understands they’re nice people who want to help her find her mommy.

Tell her never, ever, ever to get into a car with someone she doesn’t know, no matter what they say to her. Teach her to bite and scratch and kick while screaming “I don’t know you!” at the top of her lungs.

A helpful tip for memorizing address and phone number: A 7-digit number can be sung to the tune of “Twinkle twinkle little star.” Do it as part of the bedtime routine.

A three year old should know her first and last name and her phone number. She should also know her parents’ name and where they work (the name of the business, not “the office building.”)

Teach her a code word, and not to go with anyone if they don’t know the code word.

A woman with other kids is good, as is someone working in a store. I know that my Mommy Radar went off when I saw a crying child by himself*, so telling her to be brave and not cry may not signal to others that she is in trouble.

See if there is an Escape School class near you. My kids went to one and learned a lot of things, like how to get an adult to understand that they need help and how to break the hold of someone trying to kidnap them.

Remember, most people will help reunite a crying child with her parent. But keep an eye on her. Actually, according to Escape School, the kids most likely to be kidnapped are not tiny little girls but teenaged boys, since they’re used to going out on their own and their parents have gotten used to letting them.

*Turned out he’d stayed behind while his mom went out the store ahead of him, and while I was taking him to the clerk at the register to get help she came running back in.

When I was a kid, the rule was:
1: If I get separated from Mom, as soon as I realize I’m separated, stay still.
2: Don’t move from that spot, no matter what, until I see Mom or one of the other grown-ups I came with.
3: If I can see a policeman[sup]*[/sup] or adult I personally know (other than one of the adults I’m with) from where I am, ask that person for help. But only if I can find such a person where I am. Don’t go looking for one.

Mom also insisted that we learn our full names, her name, our address, and phone number (including area code). This last is even more important now, with most major cities having multiple area codes. As soon as we were able to handle more than one phone number, we also learned the phone number of our uncle who also lived in the area, so we’d have more than one person to call if need be.
*I think this category might have been a bit broader, actually, and might have included “who works here”. Certainly, it would have included security guards, but then, at that age, I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish security guards from policemen anyway.

Good advice from Lissa, ivylass, and Chronos. Not much to add myself.

My father always told me:

“Son, I’m not going to lie to you. You’re dumb as a mule and twice as ugly. If a strange man offers you a ride I say take it” :stuck_out_tongue:

You’re talking about a three year old lost and wandering on her own and none of you would tell her to just ask a grownup for help? You’ll confuse her with uniforms and employees and code words? I’m sorry the stranger danger paranoia seems a little excessive here. The kid needs to grab the first grownup she can see and say help i’m lost. There just aren’t enough predators out there to justify this nonsense.

… but that could be an evil lady walking around with a group of kids that she kidnapped and plans to eat for dinner


Even without predators, most adults aren’t going to be able to do much to help. Another random shopper isn’t going to be able to get on the intercom and say “Mr. Ross, please report to the housewares department customer service desk”. A person who works there, though, will be. And even if a kid goes off with some well-meaning passerby, that’s going to make things harder for the parents to find the kid, since the stranger’s contingency plans won’t be the same as the parents’ and child’s. Really, all a random stranger is going to be able to do to help is to fetch a uniformed person, anyway.

It’s also about teaching her how to handle a scary situation. Having code words and knowing who the “safe” adults are may make her feel less scared. “Okay, I’m in trouble. But Mommy told me what to do.”

You’ve obviously never had a child who was a “runner”. My elder boy was guaranteed to run away every single time we went out.

I could not use reins on him once he got too heavy, as he did the boneless cat impression and slithered along the ground.
We tried everything from explanations to leaving him at home where practical (almost impossible thanks to my husband’s work schedule) right to big spankings but nothing worked until he outgrew it at about 5 years old.

As an example, we lost him in a huge hospital in Tokyo, when we stopped to look at a sign - he darted off into a stairwell and in the literally two seconds it took for me to chase him, he had disappeared. Had he gone up or down? I chose down, and found that I had chosen wrong. So he had utterly vanished. The PRATS on the front desk let him by, and luckily an old man caught him just as he was about to run across the major intersection in front of the hospital doors. We found him five minutes later but he could have died…

Obviously in that kind of case the kid isn’t going to ask for help very readily, but we had drilled his name and surname, and the town that he lived in by the age of two.

We also tell both our kids that if they are in trouble to first go into a shop and ask for help from the counter staff. The day that my son needed to do this (I had mistaken a bus pick up time by an hour) the staff were very very helpful indeed. If they are not near a shop then I tell them to look for a Mummy with a stroller or small kids. I hope that most mothers would help a lost or runaway child. I know I have on a number of occasions.

Add another :rolleyes: to the pile. Kids get bored and distracted, and it only takes a few seconds to lose sight of a three year old. I’m sure (good) parents do their best to make sure it doesn’t happen, but not being prepared for it, or teaching your children what to do if it happens is like not belting them into a car seat 'cause you don’t plan on having an auto accident with the kids in the car.

As for the OP…my mother never taught me what to do, and I was naturally pretty shy about strangers, so I wouldn’t have approached anyone unless I was desperately hungry, I’d guess. I did know my phone number, my father’s work number, and my paternal grandparents phone number, just because I liked memorizing numbers, but we never had a numerical address and I never had any instructions about finding help. I remember getting lost briefly on a number of occasions, and for a longer period a few times (once, at night in the Okefenokee Swamp). I learned pretty quickly to stay close lest I get left behind… :eek:

So…don’t do what my mother did. Heh…that applies to just about any child rearing advice, actually. :o