Lost Boy – What Would YOU Do?

We were in France once, in a lift. Just as the doors were closing, a small boy about 3 or 4 years old suddenly appeared out of nowhere and ran into the lift as the doors were closing. There had been no sign of parents or carers in the corridor and my attempts at pidgin French didn’t elicit much information.

We weren’t sure what to do about this. Did we leave him in the left? Should we take him back onto the floor he just come from?

We decided the best option was to take him to reception and try and explain what had happened. After much gesturing and handwaving I explained to the bemused young man behind the desk what had happened. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long before a flustered dad turned up to claim his son.

I was reminded of this on Saturday, while shopping. There was a small child, about 4 years old, in the pedestrianised area of a busy shopping street. He was stood in the middle of the street crying out “Nana, where are you Nana?”. There was no Nana to be seen anywhere.

I debated what to do. Did I go to speak to the child and try and find what Nana looks like? Did I ask other shoppers if they knew who his Nana was?

I certainly couldn’t walk away and just leave him there shouting and crying. Other shoppers were either just glancing at him as they walked past or ignoring him altogether, caught up in their own thoughts. No one made any attempt to help the little lad.

Finally I decided the best option was to watch from a distance and ensure that he was safe. After 5 minutes, his Nana showed up. It was obvious from her comments that he had run off and she had been searching for him.

On reflection, I’m not sure what I should have done.

Maybe I should have consoled him, so at least he wasn’t so scared. Or maybe that might make the situation worse–making running off next time seem less scary if there was somebody to help.

In this instance, he was found safely. But what would I have done has somebody approached him, somebody who I was suspicious of? Would I have been brave enough to challenge them?

What would you do in this situation?

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  • Diane Dec 15,2015 at 3:54 pm

    I think it is tragic that so many comments contain sentences like sad that we have to protect ourselves. Our greatest duty surely is to to protect the young and vulnerable in our communities. I firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and we are all a part of a global village. If someone chooses to misinterprete my actions, then that is their problem not mine. I believe that communities create their own culture and I don’t want my culture to be one where fear of litigation overrides common sense and compassion. I would always approach a child in distress and offer comfort. It is what I would have wanted someone to do for my children in that situation . What kind of society are we creating when this is a question?

  • Ben Dec 14,2015 at 3:17 pm

    I think that observing from nearby is the best option, ready to intervene if they seem in distress when approached by someone.

    I’ve always taught my daughter that if she gets lost or separated from us then she should find a mother with children and ask her to help. A mother is much more likely to stay with a lost child until the child’s parent is found. It’s all very well to teach kids to go to a policeman if they’re lost, but security guards and other people in uniform look like the police to a small child and I’ve worked with some quite dodgy security guards in the past.

    • Kathy Dec 18,2015 at 9:35 am

      Hi Ben,
      This sounds like a great strategy! Many thanks for sharing,
      Best regards

  • Dawn Nasser Jan 22,2015 at 7:23 pm

    Really interesting question. What does one do? But how sad that life has taken us to question this. Surely the natural thing is to ask the child how we can help. But then we have to protect ourselves! I think I would not be able to stop myself approaching the child, whilst continually looking for a distressed carer! I agree it would be sensible to do this with someone else. I would not be able to leave until I was sure a carer had been located but I would also have no hesitation in trying to find security or police. Or even calling the police if too many minutes had passed.

  • Janna Apr 23,2014 at 10:46 pm

    I used to work security at one of the largest malls in Canada, so we dealt with lost children all the time. I had the advantage of being uniformed, so I had that veneer of ligitimacy, but I haven’t had a problem when I did this out of uniform as well.

    Basically, the age of the child mattered. If the kid was 7+ years, usually a frank and kind “Are you looking for someone?” will help. They will usually give you a straight yes or no answer. If yes, then you get the details “Did you accidentally get separated?/Were you told to wait?”

    If the kid’s accidentally separated, the quickest way to solve the problem was usually to let the kid call their parent on my cell phone. 7 times out of 10, problem solved. If the kid didn’t know the number, but could give details like house address or the parents names, usually a quick white pages hunt for a home phone number would get results (i.e. someone at home knew the parent’s cell number). If it was a place like a mall or a store, we’d take the kid to customer service to have the parent called over the PA system.

    If that failed, that’s usually when we’d call police non-emergency.

    If the kid was really young, or didn’t speak English, we’d usually skip right to the police non-emergency.

    But usually, if the kid is young, I’ll ask the child if they want to be picked up, so they can see over the crowd and spot their mommy/daddy. I found that if the kid was visible from a distance, the parents would materialize faster. If the kid was older, I’d tell them to stand on a bench next to me and look around (this would also distract them, and make them panic less).

    • Kathy May 9,2014 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Janna,
      Many thanks for your insights – I love the idea of the child standing on a bench to look round!
      Best regards


  • jennie johnson Dec 1,2012 at 9:15 am

    I have had this happen to me. I did comfort the child and wait with him while flustered mum turned up but i also asked another stranger to me and the child to wait with me also. Sad we have to protect ourselves but its just the world we live in. I would not walk away with the child. If no one had have come i would have stayed put and either call police if on street or shop assistant if in shop.

    • Kathy Dec 1,2012 at 11:54 am

      Hi Jennie,

      Thank you very much for your comment.
      I think that’s really valuable idea to have someone else wait with you, thanks for sharing that.
      Best regards


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