The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is here, which means downtown Burlington will be busy with public events and big crowds. When there are a lot of people in a public space, there is a risk of a child getting lost. Let me offer some direction so you can find your way on this important topic.

8 Tips from Dr. Lewis First

  1. First, dress your child in bright colors so you can spot them easily in a crowd. If you have more than one child, give them matching hats or shirts. This way you are always seeking the same color or pattern.
  2. Before leaving home, create a plan for what happens if someone gets lost. Tell your child who to turn to, such as a police officer or another parent with children.  Explain that they should not reach out to adults walking alone. They also should not accept an offer from a stranger who says they will bring your child to you.
  3. You might tell your children what landmark or restaurant to seek out if they are old enough to do that. If a child is old enough to know your cell number, make sure they know it. That means they can tell it to you prior to leaving for a public event.
  4. If not, you can write your number on a younger child’s arm with something that will not easily wash off. You can also write it on the label of the clothing they are wearing.
  5. If you’re going with friends, or a larger group, have one adult assigned to watch each child at all times. Another great idea is to have a buddy system, even for going to the bathroom. It’s best if your child is always with an older sib or adult buddy in your party.
  6. Have a picture with you of your child, ideally taken prior to leaving the house. You will be able to show it to others if you do have to start looking for him or her.
  7. If your child is missing, don’t panic – but don’t wait either. Alert authorities, give them helpful information and show them the photo. Send someone to the designated meeting place. Finally, stay close to the spot where you last saw your child in case they walk back in that direction.
  8. If the adventure in a crowd goes well, praise your child for staying close to you or others with you. Your praise will reinforce the importance of staying close every time you go out to prevent getting lost.

Hopefully, tips like these will not get lost. Instead, I hope they find their way into your family routine when visiting busy public events or places.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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