Whether you're dealing with a 4-6 year old saying "I don't want to hold your hand I want to walk myself! I promise I'll stay right by you", a 7-9 year old who is walking ahead a step or two and gets separated in the crowd, or just can't see you behind them and starts to panic, or a 10-12 year old who just *begs* to go to the next area or around the corner at Innoventions, the Mission Space play area or the Dino Dig etc... while you're with a younger sibling; many of us have had that spine tingling moment of a parent getting "lost", however briefly, while at the Happiest Place on Earth! (Because we all know that kids don't get lost at Disney! ;) ) I know it's not something any of us want to think about... ever! but it does sometimes happen no matter how careful we are, or what the adult to child ratio is. (And yes, I've personally experienced all the scenarios just mentioned all while having a 2:1 adult:child ratio!) There are several things that can be done to prepare for this unhappy scenario to make it less stressful for everyone involved and to get you back to touring and making "Magical Memories" as quickly as possible.
First of all, cast members are trained for a "Lost Parent" situation and will go into action immediately to reunite you and your child as quickly as possible. The "Lost Parent" location is at the Baby/Child Care Center in each park. As soon as you realize that you have become separated from your child you need to inform the nearest cast member. They will inform the appropriate people who will "get the word out" for you and they will tell you what to do next. For general security purposes I won't go into further details as to how all this happens, but trust me, the cast members will take care of things quickly and efficiently. The longest I have ever been "lost" from the time I informed a cast member of the situation was about five minutes; it's usually less.
The first thing I do when taking the next generation of Disney addicts to the parks, and your first "line of defense" against getting separated to begin with, is to talk to them about the importance of staying close to the adults. Most importantly for me, especially if I am traveling with younger ones or first time kids of most any age who aren't carrying a cell phone, is to do what I call a "Safety Drill". (And going over this information even with older children is a good idea since cell phone batteries *do* die, even more quickly when using various apps to get around the park, using the new "Next Gen" system, taking pics and playing games while in line!) As soon as we get into whatever park we're going to first, we do not stop, do not pass go, we go directly to the first cast member in costume that we see that isn't already engaged with another guest (usually in a store or at a retail/snack cart). We explain to them that it's our first day and we're having a "safety drill" and ask them for their help. Some will know exactly what you're doing, others will look at you a little funny, but usually catch on quickly. We then explain to the kids that if for any reason we get separated from them that they should go to the first cast member that they see and tell them that their parents (aunt/uncle, grandma/grandpa etc) got lost and they need help finding them. We always explain that cast members wear special name tags and then point them out, because sometimes guests will look like a cast member "in costume" with their attire, hats etc..., and sometimes a "manager" will be in business clothes vs. a "costume", but they will always have a name tag on.
Now that we know what to do if this ever happens, let's talk briefly about some other things we can do to help get your party back together even more quickly. There is a company called safetytat that makes a temporary tattoo in several forms and designs. You can even have ones made for various special needs and allergies! So if your child has a peanut allergy, diabetes or some other special need such as autism, you can have a tat made for them to wear with this important information! They start at 9.99 for a set which includes a special pen to write whatever information you want on them. They come in many designs for boys and girls. The custom made ones start at 19.99. Well worth it especially for younger children that haven't memorized your cell phone number or won't wear a jelly bracelet; or especially for a special needs child that may be non-verbal or won't wear a bracelet. (*Disclaimer: I DO NOT endorse, nor do I have anything to do with this company other than being a happy customer in the past.) Advantage: Won't slip or be taken off by the child. Disadvantage: Cost.
Something else you might want to look at is a special "jelly bracelet" as mentioned above, that has been silk screened, laser engraved or embossed with your name and cell phone number or whatever other information you desire. Typically this item is better used with older children whose wrists are bigger and who will keep it on! Price depends of course on where you get it as well as the quantity, style and size you choose and how much information you put on it. Advantage: Depending on child's age they may even think it's cool! Can be re-used for entire trip and even at home. Disadvantage: Can come off easily either by accident or choice. Could be pricey depending on your needs/choices in designing it.
Another option you may consider, depending on the ages of the children involved, is to agree on a place to meet if for some reason anyone gets separated from the group. When using this method I will sometimes change the meeting place later in the day depending on the touring plan and where we are in the park. (TRUST me when I say that the Main Street Train Station is a REALLY long way off, and the crowds multiply exponentially when you're separated from your kid(s) and you're trying to get there from the Haunted Mansion!)
Another thing you can do along these lines, especially if the child is a bit older, is to bring walkie talkie radios with you. You can sometimes even rent these instead of buying them. Their range should be enough to work for you unless you're inside a building. (You may want to keep them off until needed to save the battery life.)
You know all those cute families we see with the matching shirts touring the parks? You know, the ones that you're jealous of because you can't get *your* family to do that? Well here's a way you *might* be able to convince them it's a good idea! One of the first things that any cast member you approach will ask you when something like this happens is "What is the child wearing?". It's much easier in this stressful situation to point to yourself and say "This shirt" than to try to remember what they were wearing that day! If that's not an option for whatever reason, take a picture of the kids first thing in the morning, every morning, with your phone or camera. (If you drive yourself, do this in the parking lot by the lane your car is parked in so you can remember that as well ;) ) Of course if your phone or camera battery dies that won't be helpful, so you might want to have a "back-up" there as well, whether it's a pic on another adult's phone, or carrying your charger or an extra battery in your backpack.
Matching shirts aren't just for cute pics!
Overall, the most important thing to remember is to keep calm and remember that this is Disney. (I know, easier said than done in these situations!) But trust me, everything will be alright, and you will be reunited with your little one safely and quickly. Just take these tips to heart and do a little preparation before you get there, have a "Safety Drill" first thing when you arrive so everyone knows what to do if something like this ever happens, and you will be on your way back to making "Magical Memories" before you know it!
What does your family do to keep track of each other while touring the parks? Let me know in the comments or on our Facebook page.