Help for Parents Whose Young Kids Tend to Wander Off

Sometimes it seems no matter how aware of my surroundings, diligent about keeping track, and how many times I tell my kids to stay with me at all times, there comes a time when I turn around and someone is missing. There is that instant of panicked counting and recounting of heads, and then the search begins.

I don’t want to name names, but my children fall into some distinct categories. Whichever category each individual falls into, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve misplaced each one of them at least once. Thankfully they were always found pretty quickly, but for those few moments of frantic searching, I can honestly say that I’ve never prayed so hard in my life.

While I don’t label my kids these things to their faces, when we go out anywhere, this is what I call them in my head:

  1. The Wanderer. This child doesn’t purposely get separated from the group, but there is a definite tendency there to get distracted, wander off and fall behind. Something cool will catch the eye, and before you know it I will turn around and be one kid short.
  2. The Runner. This kid knows the rules about staying with mom and dad, but running off is always so much fun. Why follow where everyone else is going when you can high-tail it in a different direction and have someone chase you?
  3. The Rule Follower. This one has no problem staying with mom and dad, following directions and coming when called. The only problem is, it gets a little annoying when brother or sister goes missing and the Rule Follower gets stuck searching for the missing sibling. There’s usually lots of eye rolling going on.
  4. The Independent One. This child hears the rules, understands the rules, but thinks that there is a much better interpretation of the rules. As a matter of fact, it’s quite possible that the rules don’t actually apply in all situations – let’s test it out, shall we?

With four kids, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all, especially when their different personalities come out and start making themselves known. The Wanderer starts wandering, and as I’m trying to steer that one back on track, The Runner will decide fun is to be had in a completely different place.

We’ve tried different things through the years to manage this – we talk about the dangers of straying too far away, the need to watch out for one another, and the importance of keeping mom and dad in sight at all times. Of course we have had the stranger danger talk, and given the kids instructions about who to find and what to do if they do find themselves lost.

One of the things we try to teach them is to memorize our cell phone numbers. That way, if we get separated and they can’t find one of us, they can find an authority figure and ask them to call us. (Our kids are young enough that they don’t have their own phones).

That works fine for the older two, but the younger ones are pretty spotty on the number memorization skills. Also, many times when they find themselves lost and alone, it can be hard to remember a 10 digit number.

So my husband and I made dog tags for our kids. We got ours at an army supply store, but you can get them made at a pet store also, and just put them on a chain.

dog tag

Each kid has their own tag, with their name and our cell phone numbers on it. If one of them gets lost and scared, the numbers are right there for someone to call and find us. If an accident happens and they can’t speak for some reason, their names and numbers are available for someone to see who comes to help.

We obviously never want to lose one of our children, but it’s comforting to know that if something unexpected does happen, they have a way to contact us.

Is there anything you have done to help your kids find you when they are lost?

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