N E W Y O R K, Aug. 7, 2001 -- One minute your children are next to you, then you look away for a second and they're gone.
It could be at the mall, an amusement park or the beach. But wherever it is, the next few minutes will seem like the longest of your life.
"That's every parent's nightmare," one dad tells Good Morning America. " I think the first thing I would do would be to try to contact the authorities, the police, security, whoever is in charge. Then I would start searching frantically."
Another dad says he clings to his child.
"I keep my eye close on her and my hand on her at all times," he said. "I try not to let her get too far."
GMA's parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy says the first thing to do is to take a deep breath, then act fast, because your child probably did not get very far.
Retrace your steps, and don't be afraid to break some rules. For example, a mother with a missing child can look in the employees' only area of a store or check out a men's room.
Freeze Right There
As for your children, teach them to freeze right where they are when they get lost, and that they can be assured that mom or dad will be looking for them. One idea is to give your family whistles that you can hear above the noise of a crowded park.
Feel free to yell your child's name as loudly as you want, and while you continue searching, have another adult contact security if you are in a public place.
It is easy to lose your child in the mall, where the displays often distract them, just as they distract adults.
Don't waste time looking around at your eye-level. Instead, get down low where you're more likely to spot your child's legs and feet, perhaps under a clothing rack.
Note Your Child’s Clothing
Before you head to the mall, make a mental note of what your child is wearing, and make it something colorful. If she is too young to know her address and phone number, tuck a piece of paper with that information into her shoe or pocket.
Again, do not be polite. Yell your child's name, and if he or she is not found in a few minutes, insist that management make an announcement and that mall security monitors all exits.
When your child is near the water at a lake or the beach, remember that it takes only a few minutes for a child to drown.
Notify a lifeguard and make sure that he radios his superiors so that all the lifeguards are along the water and on the lookout. And remember to get loud, Murphy says.
Stay Away from Water
Your child should be told repeatedly that there is a rule that they should never go near the water without an adult.
Show your child where your beach blanket is relative to a clear landmark, a numbered lifeguard stand or a flagpole. Or tie a balloon to your chair to make it easier for your child to spot.
For every stranger that might harm your child, there are millions who won't. Teach your child to recognize "low-risk" adults, like women with children, cashiers and vendors. Also make sure your children know that they can seek help from people at information booths and lifeguards.