Just imagine that one day your child doesn’t return home from school when he’s meant to.
He’s just getting old enough to start to walk to and from school by himself with his big sister looking out for him and it has been going really well to-date. He has always come straight home and he is enjoying the extra responsibility. Then, one day your older daughter returns home but there is no sign of your youngest child. Your daughter hasn’t seen him. She thought he must have been ahead of her.
You wait a little while. He could be dillydallying on the way home. Another 10 minutes go by. Still no sign. You wait for 5 minutes more. Just to check. You hear some voices of children nearby. This must be him now. As the voices pass by your house you realise, no, they belong to a neighbour. 5 more minutes and you are getting really concerned. You decided to walk the route back the school. Maybe he has fallen or is chatting to friends along the road. You trace his route. No sign. You walk all the way back to school – the way he must have walked. Nothing. You start to feel sick. And worried, you are getting very worried. Maybe you missed him somehow. You hurry home. Nothing. This time you are really concerned. You call a couple of your boy’s friends’ mums to see if they have got him or seen him. No joy there. You call the school and try to track down his teacher. The teacher happens to be still at the school but she doesn’t have a clue as to where he could have gone. He left as he would on any day. You start visiting and calling neighbours, other parents at the school and friends. You go back to the school, speak to the teachers. By now everyone is looking. Trying to think about where he could be. There is only one of his friend’s mums you haven’t managed to track down. You have tried a couple of times but it has gone straight to answer phone each time. You call and leave another message on the answerphone.
The teachers insist that now the Headmaster must be told. And the police. It is time to call the police. Within another 30 minutes the police have arrived and are searching the school grounds and the route home. You are beside yourself with worry. Stunned.
Eventually the mother you had been trying to reach returns your call. She has been in meetings with her phone switched off. “No,” she says apologetically. “I don’t have him. I don’t even have my children. I’ve been at work. My daughter is with a friend’s family and my son is with my mother-in-law. I’m so sorry. But as soon as I get to my mother-in-law’s to collect my son I will check with him and see if he knows anything.”
I was that mother – the one who had her phone switched off for her meeting. After speaking with my son’s friend’s mother I felt terrible for her. I hurried off to collect my own son. When I arrived my mother-in-law was outside pottering around in the garden.
“Hi!” she said smiling as she straightened up. “They’ve had a great time. They’re just inside now watching a bit of tv.”
“THEY??” I cried. “What do you mean, ‘they’?” I raced into the house and found the ‘missing child’ – the one we had obviously accidentally kidnapped – having a great old time.
I immediately phoned the poor mother to let her know. The relief was obvious down the phone. “We’d better call off the helicopter,” she said. Sure enough we heard the sound of a helicopter overhead.
As I drove her son home I tried to piece together how this could have happened? How could we have accidentally taken another family’s son home? It appears that there had been a huge amount of miscommunication. The two boys had convinced themselves that there was a playdate organised between them – only that morning my son had asked me for a playdate with his friend, to which I had replied, “sure, I’ll organise something.” Meaning that I would organise something with the friend’s mum – not meaning that same day! He had obviously taken it to mean that he could have a playdate then and there with his friend and he convinced his nana that it was organised and that everyone had approved it.
So, what to do to prevent something like this happening again? Here’s some tips from the poor mother who went through a nightmare that day:
- Communication is key – for all parties
- Let your child know that they must never go off with anyone unless it is expressly organised and agreed before-hand.
- It’s difficult – sometimes we all organise last minute playdates. I have done the same. A friend of mine called the school ahead of time and got a message to her child so that her child knew it was OK to go home with me.
- Sew your phone no./ your mobile number into your child’s bag or leave a laminated card in their bag so that anyone picking your child up has access to your numbers in case they need to get hold of you to check.
- Try to get your children to remember your telephone no. as early as they can.
- Have a special code or ‘password’ that you agree with your child – anyone picking up your child must have that password.
- For parents/ grandparents– make sure you don’t take other children home with you unless you have organised it before-hand or Ok’d it with mum on the phone.
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