Losing your child in the mall

Having a child go missing can be one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of losing my child in the mall a handful of times since the beginning of motherhood, but thankfully, I’ve managed to recover her each and every time. The first few minutes of disappearance can easily launch you into a heart attack; every succeeding moment can drive you deeper in the pit of despair.  Based on my experience, the incidents always begin within seconds to  a minute or two of distraction on my part, and then the child disappears into thin air. Frantic searching yields the child after a few minutes.

Here’s an example: I am shopping at a clothes store and am completely engrossed with my activities. I take it for granted that my daughter is following me around in and out of the dressing rooms. Bored daughter runs to the toy display, only a few meters across the clothes shop and starts getting engrossed in play. I notice that my daughter is gone and immediately go to the toy display. It turns out that she is no longer there. In her panic of not seeing me any longer, she runs to the supermarket in an effort to find me, thereby making her even more lost. I alert the security guard who starts to radio the others, while I loudly ask if anyone has seen this child. Bystander points her out to me – and there she is, crying while the other lady guards are talking to her.

In 4 out of 5 cases, it’s always the security guard who comes to the rescue. A crying and bewildered child, or a very young child launching on full speed without a parent by his/her side will most likely catch the attention of a security guard who can hold the child’s attention and prevent him/her from wandering any further until the parent arrives. I’m lucky to have a child who has an innate aversion to strangers, a homing device aimed at either me or a security guard, while launching into a child alarm system (crying) when all else fails.

In these cases, using a child safety harness when going to public places may not be very efficient. Every child is different and depending on the age, the harness may or may not be accepted by the child. Very young children are often carried or placed in prams or strollers, and may not need this, but older children may reluctantly wear them, or worse, throw a tantrum and refuse to wear them altogether.

According to Raymond and Marivic Rosales, their four-year-old child Koe, who is hyperactive, does not even notice it when his parents are gone from view. It doesn’t matter if they try to hold on fast to him; a very small and quick child can easily disappear in the crowd and it requires quickness of thinking and awareness to prevent the incident from escalating. Such children can very easily give their parents “the slip.”

Case in point is the disappearance of two-year-old Jessica Rasalan in April 2011. She was discovered lost by her mother at SM Sucat Hypermarket. According to the family, CCTV footage showed that Jessica seemed to have followed a woman who looked like her mother and hurriedly ran after her until she reached the mall’s hallway. At this point, there were no more CCTV images available in this area because security claimed that their cameras were shut on that day. Jessica has since been returned to her family.

To avoid this from happening to our own children, we should:

– Hold fast to the child’s hand at all times. This can be difficult when adults are carrying many packages at the mall or are distracted by payments or holding onto other children or belongings. Keep in mind that your priority “package” is the child.

– Teach the child to go to the “men in uniform” or the security guards when they are lost. One useful exercise is to actually approach a security guard and have a friendly conversation with him/her while instructing the child on what to do when the situation happens.  Lolita Jost, who has two boys, once sat down her six-year-old after he was momentarily lost in the mall and promptly instructed him the concierge desk and the security guards stationed in the vicinity. Use the distress during the moment to instruct the child so that the lesson stands out in his/her memory.

– Be completely aware. If a child has disappeared for only a few seconds, chances are he/she hasn’t gone very far off. Be vocal about your situation and employ the assistance of the security guard immediately so that the guard can radio the incident to the others. Often, bystanders or other mall goers will alert you towards the whereabouts of the child if you make it evident to everyone what your situation is.

– Dress children in bright colors when going to public places, such as orange, lime or yellow to make them stand out in a crowd.

As in most cases of security-related incidents, awareness and quickness of thinking will always come to the rescue. Knowing your child’s habits and behavior will allow you to make provisions and to take the necessary precautions before disaster strikes.