by Jamilah Samian
It was hot and humid, the fifth day of the midterm school holidays. Ahmad and I had spent the entire morning going from store to store hunting for baby items in anticipation of our second child. The shopping trip was great but tiring. Now we were at the main entrance of a fourteen-storey hotel-cum-shopping centre. Throngs of people sauntered in and out of the entrance. Ahmad and I clutched our shopping bags as we began to look for an eatery to have a quick bite for lunch. I was eight months pregnant. I had been on my feet all day long. My feet ached and my stomach rumbled. The sheer number of people milling around made me feel dizzy. As Ahmad had both hands full, I loosely held my three-year-old son’s hand.
Several minutes later, we spotted a promising looking restaurant and began to make our way there. Just twenty feet away on the right, I caught sight of a lift opening its doors. It quickly filled with people. Then, out of the blue and before I could stop him, I saw my little son run into the lift as its doors closed. I stood rooted to the floor in shock. “The boy … he ran into the lift!” I gesticulated wildly to my husband, who, at that moment, was looking for a vacant table for us to sit.
“Wait for me right here,” Ahmad said and dashed to a security person who happened to be passing by. I saw him talking to the man rapidly and then both men rushed to another lift near the one my son went into. The man inserted a key into a panel in the lift just before they disappeared from my sight. I was beside myself with fear, worry and guilt. My legs felt like jelly. I wondered: Would my son get out of the lift at a certain floor? Would he be safe? Would they find him? The next ten minutes were sheer agony, until the two men reappeared … with my crying son in tow. “We found him at the fourteenth floor all by himself,” Ahmad said in relief. The two of them had gone from floor to floor, calling my son’s name loudly at each stop. We thanked the security man profusely. His fast action had saved the day. By inserting the special key into the panel of the lift they used, it was deactivated i.e. it would not open its doors to anyone outside, enabling them to search and locate my son without interruption.
My son is now twenty-two and a final year engineering student. Yet I still shudder when I think of the incident. Losing young children in the shopping mall or any public place for that matter is a big deal and a nightmare for any parent, especially when it is crowded to the brim with people. Every now and then we read of paedophiles and other unscrupulous characters out on the prowl for young children. For many parents, the safety of their little ones is a top priority and a daily concern. How do you avoid such episodes from occurring? When it comes to safety at public places, being proactive is one of the recommended strategies. Being proactive means anticipating what could happen and taking preventive steps as follows:
– Read a story about a lost child. Young children usually find it easier to understand ideas through stories read to them. Concepts like “stranger” and “safety” are easier to grasp for preschoolers with the help of pictured books. For older children, if you come across an article in a newspaper about a missing child, share the story with them and have a discussion on what the parents and child could have done to avoid the incident. Or, what the child could have done if he finds himself lost.
– Remind young children to always hold your hand. This may seem obvious, but children are unpredictable and curious and get distracted easily with the numerous things they see at public places. If something grabbed their attention, they could stay rooted at a spot, oblivious to the fact that you had walked off the premises.
– Tell them to stay near you. If they could see you and you could see them comfortably, then they are at a safe distance from you. This would apply to certain places like theme parks and playgrounds where it may not be practical to keep holding their hands at all times.
– Tell them to stay where they are if they are lost. It is normally easier for you to look for them rather than the other way round as they might wander further and further away if they try to locate you once they realized they are lost.
– Take note of your child’s clothing before going out. This would help security personnel to identify your child if he or she gets lost in a crowded place.
– Tell them to not play hide-and-seek at the shopping centre. Some kids might get excited at the sight of rows upon rows of hanged clothing especially and may think it’s a good place to hide for fun.
– Tell your child never to accept gifts like toys or sweets from strangers. Food and drink items could be laced with drugs.
Think twice before you decide to bring the little ones on shopping trips during peak hours. The busiest times include the evenings after office hours and school holidays. It could be wiser to leave them with a trusted baby-sitter instead when you absolutely have to go out during these periods. Shopping with your young child is a far more pleasant affair during non-peak hours because he or she could help you choose the items you’re looking for – an opportunity for the two of you to bond and for him to learn. Besides, you would have greater peace of mind as you don’t feel harassed with the thought of rubbing shoulders with scores of other shoppers trying to squeeze through the same aisle … or thinking that your child might dash and disappear into unknown territory like my son did.
– As published in ParenThink May 2008 issue