How Children Feel When They Get Lost in a Public Space

When a child gets lost in a public space, they feel anxiety and fear. Therefore, the best thing to do is to prevent this from happening.
How Children Feel When They Get Lost in a Public Space
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 23 January, 2023

When a child gets lost in a public space, it can be very frightening and even traumatic. We’ve all gotten lost at some time as children, at least for a few minutes, in a public space such as a supermarket, a beach, or a shopping mall. The feeling of losing sight of familiar adults is truly upsetting when you’re barely a yard tall.

However, this is a very common situation that doesn’t only happen to hyperactive children or irresponsible parents. Even if we take all the necessary precautions, it’s impossible to guarantee that little ones will stay by our side at all times.

How does a child feel when they get lost?

There are children who can’t tolerate even a few minutes away from their parents, despite being in the care of other trusted adults such as relatives or teachers. Others are more independent, so they can spend hours or days without the presence of their parents and this doesn’t cause any problems. Therefore, the perception of an experience can feel very different depending on a child’s personality.

Each child is a person with individual needs. However, in general, children feel unprotected and anxious, as when they get lost in a public space without trusted adults, it’s perceived as truly threatening.

Depending on their age, level of development, social skills, and emotional management, the child may act in a more or less appropriate way. Some understand that in such a situation, they should approach a security officer for help. Others quickly become desperate and burst into tears. Then there are those who react passively and sit on the street and wait for their parents to find them. The situation can be very different depending on the child.

A young girl cyring because she's lost in a public space.
Generally speaking, the child will be afraid of being lost and alone in the middle of a beach, a train station or a shopping mall surrounded by strangers.

The experience of adults

Few situations are as desperate as losing sight of a young child when you’re away from home. It’s not surprising that children get lost in crowded places such as seaside resorts, shopping malls, or playgrounds. Children want to enjoy themselves, which often leads them to wander farther away than they should.

Once parents realize that they don’t know where their child is, worry and anxiety emerge abruptly and intensely. Then, tachycardia sets in, and you may start imagining worst-case scenarios in your mind. When your child goes missing, your world comes to a standstill. However, and fortunately, most of the time, this situation is just a big scare because, after a few minutes, you manage to find the whereabouts of your child.

In addition, there are children who don’t even realize that they’re lost because they don’t perceive themselves to be. Sometimes, children simply entertain themselves and play alone or with friends, and, without realizing it, they get lost from their families. This case is the least harmful for the child because they don’t feel lost.

Steps to take when your child is lost

Hopefully, you’ll never have to search for your child after getting lost in a crowd. But, if you do have to go through this uncomfortable situation, it’s best to be aware of how to proceed. Remember that losing your child doesn’t make you a bad mother, the truth is that it only takes half a second of turning around to look for your glasses for your little one to get lost.

What to do if a child gets lost is the following:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Immediately go to the security personnel on site and report the loss.
  • Provide clear and concise information: The child’s name, physical characteristics, and a description of the clothing they’re wearing. It’s also important to clarify when and where you last saw the child.
  • Let the personnel work, and they’ll apply the relevant protocol.
  • Continue the search on your own and ask for help from other people who are in the same place.
  • Once you’ve found your child, it’s advisable not to scold them at the moment, but to wait until you’re at home to talk about what happened.
A little girl who's lost at the beach.
It is essential that the child knows how to act in case they get lost in a public place. For this reason, you have to tell them that they should turn to a security officer to help them find their family, among other measures.

How to prevent this frightening situation?

As we’ve already said, no parent is exempt from losing their child. Not even the most responsible, careful, and meticulous parent can know with certainty that they’ll never have to search for their child because they’re lost. However, there are different prevention strategies to prevent this from happening or to resolve this situation in the quickest and most practical way possible.

As a first step, it’s essential to talk about this with your children. To do so, you should use simple and clear vocabulary. For example, you can explain to them that in places where there are many people, they could lose sight of us for a moment. Also, if that happens, they should ask for help from security personnel or other families.

In order to keep this frightening situation as short as possible, it’s important that the child remembers basic information, such as their full name, their parents’ names, and a contact telephone number.

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  • Fernandez, L. E. (2009). Ansiedad infantil e implicación de los padres: una revisión. Behavioral Psychology/Psicología Conductual, 17(1), 67-88. https://go.galegroup.com/ps/anonymous?id=GALE%7CA226571530.
  • Ramírez, M. A. (2005). Padres y desarrollo de los hijos: prácticas de crianza. Estudios pedagógicos (Valdivia), 31(2), 167-177.

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