Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Prepare day hiking kids for the possibility of getting lost

Lost children should stay away from water. Photo courtesy of Photoree.
Every parents’ nightmare is a lost child, and on a hiking trail the possibility of that occurring is great. In the woods, children easily can slip out of sight, and the dangers of an injury from a fall or of drowning rise. While such instances are rare, they can occur.

Arming our children with the knowledge they need to ensure they can be more quickly found is thus paramount before setting out on a hike.

Knowledge is power
Children should know basic information about themselves that will help authorities reunite them with their parents. Among that info is:
g Their first and last name
g How to spell their last name
g Their parents’ names
g Their telephone number
g The name of the place they are staying, such as the campground or hotel
As a two-year-old likely can do little better than remember his first and last name (which he may not pronounce correctly) and because panic can seize up an older child’s memory, also have children carry an emergency information card that contains the above information. That card should include their full address, blood type, and allergies.

What to do if lost
Teaching a child what to do once he realizes he’s lost is paramount. First, he ought to stay put. The more he walks, the more likely he is to wander farther away from the trail and so will be more difficult to find. Going near water or climbing rocks also can lead to injuries, so a lost child should refrain from those activities. Secondly, have him blow on his safety whistle rather than shout for help. Shouting will cause him to lose his voice much more quickly than blowing on a whistle will cause him to lose his breath. Worse, if he’s hoarse, he may not be able to respond loudly enough to rescuers calling his name. The sound of a safety whistle also can be heard from farther away than a kid’s shout.

Ask for help
When another hiker crosses paths, the child should ask for help. The odds are against a fellow hiker being a dangerous person. The child should explain he is lost, that he needs help, and ask the adult to escort him to safety. Teach a child to present his emergency information card to an adult.

Supply your child
If a child is old enough, have him wear a daypack with a few sundries in it. Among the items would be an extra emergency information card, a snack or two, a bottle of water, a sweatshirt and hat, a map with your trail marked on it, an extra safety whistle, and a small flashlight. If your child is a teenager, include a first-aid kit that he knows how to use. These items can help a child get by for a few hours until rescuers find him.

Practice makes perfect
In addition to going over all of this with a child, practice it. The safety of the backyard makes a perfect spot to “practice” what to do if lost. A child who has simulated this experience and knows that people are looking for him is less likely to panic should he actually become lost. In addition, each time you head out to the trail, review the background information he needs to provide to adults and what to do if lost.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.