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I think one of the greatest fears of any parent is losing their child somewhere, would you agree? I can’t even begin to describe that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you turn and your child, who was right by your side in a public place, is no longer right by your side.
In fact, your child is no longer anywhere. “Have I lost my child?!”
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Your eyes dart from side to side. Your heart begins to pound in your throat. All the blood in your entire body rushes to your face. You can’t decide whether you can’t breathe or can’t stop your breathing from reaching a pace rivaling the speed of light.
Then, the world around you seems to move in slow motion. At the same time, everything rushes past you in some sort of hazy blur. If you didn’t know better, you could swear that the earth is somehow beginning to move beneath your feet.
If you weren’t so hyper-focused on not having some sort of panic attack/fainting spell. So focused on not bursting into tears while yelling your fool head off. If you didn’t feel like dying right there on the spot, your brain would certainly explode from inside your skull at that very moment.
“Where is my child?!”
“WHERE IS MY CHILD?????!!!!!!!”
When I was a kid, the kidnapping of Adam Walsh made national news. He was the same age as me, and he was kidnapped from his local mall. I’m not sure why his story resonated with me so much. Maybe it was because he was the same age. Maybe it is because I don’t recall another similar story ever making headlines in the same way. I’m sure there were others, but being kidnapped from a mall forever terrified me for years as a kid.
As a mom, this has continued to be my nightmare. This whole idea of losing one of my children or having one of them taken from me while in public terrifies me. For this reason, from the time my oldest kids were able to walk on their own, I have been vigilant in teaching them to stay near me and to listen and obey, especially while we are in public.
The most effective way I have found to do this is to lose my children. Yep. I lose my children. On purpose.
Before you start thinking I’m crazy, hear me out.
When my oldest was just over a year old, I was already pregnant with number two. I knew that I would need her to listen to me immediately while I was also carrying around a baby. And, I knew that I would need her to independently be able to walk next to me and to be able to stay near me at all times. I didn’t want to have either of us depending on her having my hand to hold because I knew that I would not always have one available.
Enter our trip to Michaels. This was a store that she loved, and if ever there was a store to lure her away from me, it would be there. She loved all the flowers and colorful crafty stuff.
I will never forget that day. It was a Saturday, and it was after I had picked her up from my parents who were watching her that day. I told her the whole way there about what my instructions were, and I was certain that she understood.
From the moment we stepped out of the car, she was on her own. She would not have a hand to hold, but her firm instruction was to keep a hand on my leg somewhere at all times. If I could not feel her hand, she was in trouble.
It took some verbal reminders, but it wasn’t long before I was walking up and down the aisles with a little hand attached to my leg. We went this way and that, and her little hand stayed.
Until it didn’t.
Although I had stopped to look at something before and commanded her to stay right next to me, which she did, this time I watched her start to wander. She had found something intriguing, and she went to explore.
Even though I knew exactly where she was the entire time, I wandered away from where I had been. I ducked around a corner to watch what she did. It took a few minutes, but suddenly she realized that I was nowhere near.
She was completely alone.
Still to this day she is my self-sufficient, level headed firstborn (as much as any teen can be). Even at one she just started to walk in the direction from which she had come. Again I kept my eye on her, but as she wandered to one aisle and then the other, she began to feel that sense of being lost. She had that fear of not having any idea of where her mother was in a public place. This was exactly the goal I had wanted to achieve.
I watched the tears come and the look on her face that could only communicate sheer terror. Then, I came out of my hiding place. The tears stopped, and I dropped down to her level. We talked right then and there about where she went wrong. I defined what the expectations were, showed her exactly where she went wrong, and described what her choice resulted in. Then, I asked her if she liked being lost. Curls bobbing from side to side as she shook her head, she said that she did not.
My plan was working.
We tried it for a bit longer, and as I’m sure you can imagine, her little hand never left my side. In fact, I think I may have tripped over her a time or two she was walking so closely!
Over the next few months, we repeated this same drill at various stores. We went to Target, we went to Kohl’s, and we went to Meijer. There was only one time that she chose to wander off, and it was in Meijer.
The rule in Meijer or wherever we were shopping with a cart was that she was to keep a hand on the cart at all times. She was intrigued by some sort of packaging in the snack aisle when I had stopped the cart for something. Although I called her when we were ready to get on our way, she remained fixated on whatever she was looking at. I called her one more time as I got a bit further away, but she was paying no attention. Or, she was ignoring me. Either way, she became lost.
Again I continued on and went a few aisles over. I was able to keep up with her from behind, but she again felt that sense of panic at being lost. The training exercise was completed much like it had been in Michaels.
From that point on, she followed all instructions in all stores. She even avoided hiding among all the clothing racks that seem to call kids’ names at times. My little girl never left where she was told to be. The instructions did vary from time to time depending on where we were, but she listened and obeyed.
This training has continued for each one of my children. Although most times when we are in public there are plenty of eyes to keep an eye on the little ones, I know that I cannot be dependent on having an extra set of eyeballs with me. For this reason, I still train my young ones using this same method.
Hopefully, after reading this far, you don’t think I’m crazy anymore, but this system has worked so well for all five of my older children. I think each one of my kids needed to feel that sense of panic in their gut, no more than three times, and the issue of listening and obeying in public has been solved.
My sixth child has given me a run for my money, however, because I can’t make him get lost! He is the most complacent, obedient, calm, quiet-spirited little boy who just listens and obeys in nearly everything. I still try to lose him every once in awhile, and he has yet to walk into my trap. This is a nice problem to have, I guess, but I will keep trying to train him at times.
How have you trained your kids to stay with you, to listen while in public, and to obey you no matter the circumstances that surround you?