Monday 21 October 2019

Minutes feel like a lifetime when you can't find your child

Picture posed. Deposit Photos
Picture posed. Deposit Photos
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

A survey by Irish company Koolio has found that one in three Irish parents has become accidentally separated from their child or children under the age of 10.

Apparently, we lose them most in large supermarkets and shopping centres. I've certainly spent time desperately sprinting up and down the aisles of supermarkets trying to find my kids as the panic began to rise.

Even three minutes can seem like a lifetime under those circumstances.

Parents in the 45-54 age bracket are the most likely to temporarily lose children, with under 35s the least likely, according to the survey.

Young couples take note - have your babies young so you are less likely to lose them.

Ten per cent of Irish parents said that they lost track of their children while holidaying abroad.

I think losing your child abroad is even more terrifying than doing so locally.

I saw it firsthand last summer.

While on holidays in France, I stopped off in a seaside town with my children and went to a pizza place for lunch. When the owner heard us speaking English, she rushed over to ask us if we'd lost a child. I answered no and then she pointed to a terrified-looking boy sitting in the corner.

I went over to talk to him, taking my own son with me so the boy wouldn't be frightened. That's one of the problems with lost children nowadays - adults are afraid to approach them in case we're viewed as suspicious. All children are warned to be wary of strangers and never to speak to them.

In a Channel 5 TV experiment, a small girl was placed in a busy shopping centre looking lost and asking for help; 600 people walked by her until a grandmother eventually stopped to help her.

So, I got my son to talk to the boy and ask him his name and find out what had happened.

The poor boy, who was eight, had got separated from his family on a cycle trip and had come into the pizzeria because he remembered going there for dinner with his family two nights before.

The boy was quite distressed and couldn't remember his parents' mobile numbers or the name of the place he was staying. All we had was his name, which wasn't much use in the middle of France, until I spotted a wristband on his right arm.

It had the name of the campsite he was staying in. After a couple of phone calls and much explaining, the boy was reunited with his parents. By this stage at least two hours had gone by and they were understandably frantic.

While we were trying to find the parents, I kept thinking how worried they must be. Every minute must have seemed like an hour. When we drove away I made my children memorise my mobile number, something I hadn't done before. I now realised that if any of my children had got lost, they had no contact details and no wristbands to even show where we were staying.

I was therefore very interested to hear about KoolioBandz. Produced by the Irish firm Koolio, they are waterproof identity wristbands that you can put on your child in case they wander off. It seems like a good solution because even if your child has memorised your mobile number, chances are they won't be able to recall it with the shock of being lost.

The only problem with an identity band is information. How much are parents happy to disclose? What if the person who finds the child is not a Good Samaritan?

Koolio claims that its ID wristbands provide complete anonymity - which seems like an oxymoron.

"When a child is found, the finder goes to the website, chooses their native language from the list and enters the code on your child's wristband. They then type a message letting you know where you can collect your child - our system then sends a text message to you in your chosen language," the company says.

It sounds effective and is certainly something worth exploring.

Alternatively, you can do what my friend does when she goes somewhere new with her children - she writes her phone number in biro on their arm.

It has proven to work effectively. When she lost her son on a recent trip to Belfast, she got a call from the kind stranger who found him wandering up the road. They had found her contact number on his arm.

According to the Koolio survey, men are more likely to lose small children than women and boys are more likely to get lost than girls.

Perhaps we should just harness the fathers to the sons and rest easy.

Irish Independent

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