Viral TikTok Video Tells Parents What to Do If Child Goes Missing
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jess Martini. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I had my first two sons back-to-back, I was overwhelmed. Like many new moms, I started researching. Some people find too much information overwhelming, but I find it empowering. Feeling prepared eased my anxiety and gave me confidence in my parenting.
Now I try to do the same for the nearly half a million followers I have on TikTok and Instagram. I studied a bit of child development in college, but mostly I’m just willing to jump into researching the topics that other parents are thinking about.
Lately I’ve been focused on a universal parenting experience: when your kid goes missing. Whether you’re at home or in public, it’s terrifying to realize you don’t know where your kid is. But many parents react the wrong way. Here’s what you should do instead and which habits you should leave behind.
Many parents search in silence for their children. But making noise is helpful for a few reasons. It gets the attention of other people nearby and could help you grab your child’s attention if they’ve wandered off to look at something more interesting than Mom. If someone with ill intent is trying to leave with your child, a commotion will likely make them leave.
Many parents are afraid of making a scene. Sure, it can be embarrassing if you shout out only to realize that your kid is right next to you, hiding in a clothing rack. But that’s the best-case scenario. I’m always OK looking foolish if it means my kids are safe and sound.
Focus on their description
Our first instinct is to shout our child’s name. But if you’re in public, that’s not helpful. No strangers know that your son’s name is Kyle. But if you say that you’re looking for a 3-year-old boy with a green shirt and red hair, they’re more likely to spot him.
To help with this, I always take a picture of my kids before we go out for the day. That way I know what they’re wearing if I need to shout a description.
Teach your kids to stand still
Finding a moving target is always harder. Teach your kids that if they go missing, they should stand still. Chances are you’ll find them more quickly.
If they’re older and have the maturity to handle it, set a designated meeting place that’s easy to recognize and navigate to before you go into a public event.
At home, check dangerous places first
Having a kid go missing at home can be just as scary as when they disappear in public. Nine times out of 10 kids are somewhere silly, like in their closets or under their bed. But rather than starting your search there, check the most dangerous places first.
If your child is in one of these places, their life is in danger. So check the pool, car, washing machine, dryer, bathrooms, and the road before checking more innocuous places like under that pile of laundry. It will take five minutes at most to rule out the most dangerous places in your home, but if your child were there, you’d be glad you checked those first.
Having an action plan should make you feel prepared, not paranoid. Before you head out to your next summer event, take a minute to remind yourself what to do if your child goes missing. That way you can feel a sense of security knowing that you’ve taken time to plan ahead.
Jess Martini is a mom of three who is on TikTok @jesmartini and Instagram @jes_martini.