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Steps to keep your child from wandering away

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Posted at 12:48 PM, Aug 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-02 15:58:27-04

Having a child who wanders unsupervised can be a nerve-wracking experience for parents.

Early Wednesday morning, a 2-year-old boy was spotted wandering in Normal Heights after apparently escaping from his home. Thankfully, the boy was not hurt and reunited with his mother.

While wandering behavior is most frequently seen in people with autism or Alzheimer's disease, any child could wander away from a home or other setting for various reasons.

The group Connecting For Kids outlined three types of wandering:

  • Goal-Directed: Wandering with the purpose of getting somewhere or obtaining something (water, train tracks, park, an item of obsession, etc.).
  • Bolting/Fleeing: Quickly departing with the intent to escape something (anxiety, uncomfortable or undesirable situation, stress, demand or sensory input).
  • Other: Cases where the individual wanders due to confusion, disorientation, boredom or simply becomes lost.

Connecting For Kids says children who wander could face dangerous situations such as:

  • Accidental drowning
  • Traffic accidents
  • Exposure to environment (heat stroke, dehydration, hypothermia)
  • Falling from a high place
  • Contact with predatory strangers

In addition to the dangers they may encounter, a high percentage of children who wander are unable to reliably provide their name, parents' names or address when recovered by first responders. This can make it harder to reunite children with their families and cause additional stress to the lost child.

What can we do about a wandering child?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has these tips for parents, teachers or caregivers to keep children who wander safe:

Plan
  • Watch the child’s behaviors
  • Have an emergency plan to respond
  • Keep information about the child up-to-date (picture, description)
  • Secure your home (fences, door locks)
  • Keep identification on the child (ID bracelet or information card)

Prevent

  • Notice signs that the child may wander off before it happens (for example, child makes a certain sound or looks towards the door)
  • Be alert about the child’s location
  • Provide a safe location
  • Inform neighbors and school workers
  • Alert first responders

Teach Safety Skills

  • Responding to safety commands (“stop”)
  • Stating name and phone number (or showing ID)
  • Swimming, crossing the street

Devices that can help

There are tools or electronic devices available for parents to keep tabs on their wandering child.