A lost toddler is every parent’s worst fear. It can happen to anyone. Children are curious and unpredictable, and it’s too easy for them to wander off in seconds. When the parents realize they are gone, the immediate reaction is to start running through the store, scanning every section and corner. But there is a better way.
Blogger Jess Martini from the United States posted a TikTok in November with an incredible hack on how to find a lost child —and her advice is saving lives.
How to Find a Lost Toddler at a Store
Jess, the mother of three, warned parents to never ‘silently search’ for their missing kids. Instead, she used this hack when one of her sons went missing while shopping, and she managed to find him safely.
Jess begins her public service announcement by saying, “If your child ever goes missing in a public place… remember, these things happen to even the best parent. If you’re at an amusement park, zoo, mall, whatever it is, and you look around, and your child is no longer with you, what you want to do is to start loudly looking for them.
“Do not start silently looking for them. You want to look loudly, and what I mean by that is you start shouting their description while you look.”
She then gives an example with her son’s description. “It’s going to sound like this; ‘I’m looking for a boy, age five, short brown hair, brown eyes, Caucasian, red Nike T-shirt, black shorts.’ And you’re going to keep repeating yourself while you look over and over again.” 
She encourages parents to be loud about their lost toddler. “Now you’ve got every single person who’s around you looking for your child instead of just you, and best-case scenario somebody finds your child and they return them to you. Worst case scenario, someone was walking away with your child, they’re more likely to let them go because they don’t want that sort of commotion.”
“Better to Look Stupid Than Be Sorry”
Parents might feel a little silly to begin shouting like this, but it’s worth the embarrassment. “You may feel you look stupid doing it, and maybe you do, but it is so much better to look stupid than to be sorry.”
This might go against a person’s initial instinct, but remember, everyone else in the store knows how much danger a lost toddler could be in. Most people will try to help. Additionally, most stores have a protocol for lost kids, involving closing the doors to prevent an abductor from walking away with them. Shouting like this will allow the owners and cashiers to go on alert.
A Lost Toddler Story
A mother of a two-year-old was shopping at Kmart in Australia when she experienced “the worst 10 minutes of her life.” Her child went missing.
“One friend ran to the entry immediately and alerted the staff member to not let a boy of his description leave the store. Even if he was with an adult, another friend searched the area he was last seen,” she wrote in a Facebook post. 
She was hurriedly searching when she realized how quiet she was being. She recalled Jess’s advice and began to shout a description of her lost toddler.
“‘I’m missing a little boy; he’s wearing a yellow shirt and has brown hair. He’s two years old, and his name is Nathan,’” she had repeated. Soon enough, she had everyone’s attention. “I had every adult around me on alert. They all threw aside what they were looking at and started searching too,” she wrote in her post.
To her relief, a man came with her son. “I turned back the way I came, and there he was. A man had walked past him after hearing me calling out,” she said. “If I hadn’t have been calling out, that man would have had no clue that I was looking for Nathan. Nate would have walked past him, and he wouldn’t have blinked.”
In reply to this post, Facebook user Susan Bruce Wood related a story she had witnessed firsthand at the grocery store in the 80s. A mother began yelling, “I can’t find my two-year-old-son! He’s wearing a ninja turtle shirt and red shorts, and he has black hair!” Upon hearing this, a man gasped and ran out of the store. He caught a fellow in the parking lot carrying the lost toddler to his car, claiming he was “taking him to the police station.” The mom’s quick thinking saved her child that day. 
What to Do Before You Go Out
Even with this hack, it’s always better to avoid such a stressful situation. Here are some safety tips to implement before you take out young children:
- Have the child memorize your phone number and have it written on him, either on a bracelet, shoe, shirt tag, or even a piece of paper in his pocket.
- Dress the child in bright, noticeable colors. Attention-catching clothes and accessories can dissuade predators who seek children who are dressed less memorable.
- Take a “before” picture to record the kid’s outfit that day. In the heat of the moment, it’s often hard to remember. 
- Designate a meeting place with the child beforehand in case you get separated. 
Losing a child in a store is terrifying, but it can have a happy ending. Remember to follow your instinct. If you feel like you need to call the police, don’t talk yourself out of it. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Or, in the words of Jess Martini, it’s better to look stupid than be sorry.
- “‘Scariest minutes of my life’: Kmart shopper finds lost son using TikTok trick.” Yahoo News. Brooke Rolfe. January 24, 2021
- “Woman Finds Her Missing Toddler In A Supermarket With The Help Of A “Hack” She Saw On TikTok.” Bored Panda. Liucija Adomaite and Denis Tymulis. January 2021.
- “What to Do If Your Child Gets Lost.” Parents. Michelle Crouch. February 24, 2015
- “How to Find Your Child If He or She Is Missing.” Very Well Family. Vincent Iannelli, MD. February 3, 2020.