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Losing Your Child in Public Anxiety

May 17th, 2020


“Losing a kid in a split second can happen to anyone." - Anonymous

A small child sitting alone on a mall bench

Losing Your Child in Public Anxiety

Being a parent is not easy. Parental anxiety starts during, and even before pregnancy. All to prepare you for dealing with the challenges and stresses of being a parent to your children. With easy access to the internet and social media groups, there is endless amounts of information available about what is best for raising your children. There are so many combatting opinions about what your kids should eat, drink, watch, and play with, that we never know what is right and what is wrong. Always having the fear that you are going to screw up your child by exposing them to chemicals, screen time, or the wrong type of sunscreen in enough to make a person feel overwhelmed.

Once you get past the daily and general anxieties of managing your child’s life, next you find yourself worrying about everything related to your personal life. Between your job, exercise, errands, laundry, and preparing meals it's no wonder parent’s feel overwhelmed and like they are losing control. It is critical that parent’s create the time and space for themselves to find balance and harmony within their own lives, separate from their kids, so that they can be present-minded for their children.

When Parents get anxiety about losing their child

We lose our sense of self, among other things. Parental mental health can be at risk for developing issues such as:

  • Anxiety
    • Concern that they are not making the right choices when it comes to decision making
    • Fear of their children getting hurt or lost
  • Depression
    • Postpartum depression
    • Loss of self and life before children
  • Addiction
    • As a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of being a parent
    • Alcohol
    • Cigarette smoking
    • Adderall
    • Drug use

Why Do Parents Lose Their daughter or son in Public?

Different types of events can occur when parents are overwhelmed, aloof, and not present-minded with their children. One of which is losing your child in public. Also considered to be a parent’s worst nightmare. Common places where children get lost might include:

  • Swimming pools
  • Beach
  • Fair
  • Amusement parks
  • Parks and playgrounds
  • Library
  • Children’s indoor play centers
  • Museums
  • Aquariums

Some people may not understand how a parent could lose their child. However, it happens often. Some of the reasons a child could go missing in a public setting may be any of the following reasons:

  • Toddlers are quick
  • Children are explorers
  • Children do not always understand boundaries
  • Parents were talking with other adults and lost sight of their children
  • The child did not communicate with the parent that they wanted to move to another area
  • A stranger beckoned your child to another area of interest (major fear of parents)
A young boy and girl walking alone in a crowded public square

How Losing Your Child in Public Creates Anxiety

If you do lose your child in public, you may find yourself experiencing a variety of emotions that could trigger panic and anxiety. Common reactions and feelings that you might experience include:

  • Nervous
  • Worry
  • Concern
  • Stress
  • Racing mind
  • Fear
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Pacing

All of the above responses are symptomatic of anxiety, and possibly an acute episode of an anxiety or panic attack.

Some onlookers, including strangers and friends, can be very helpful in locating your child. However others are not. Some people who witness a panicked parent looking for their child may judge them and view them as an unfit parent. For the panicked parent, this only creates more angst, embarrassment, anger, and frustration.

A mom hugging and kissing her son

Mental Health Risks Associated with Losing Your Child in Public

It is not until you lose your child once, that the anxiety of it happening again can be paralyzing.Potential mental health issues that are at stake after a parent loses a child in public could be:

  • Post traumatic stress:
    • When a person develops anxiety after they have experienced a shocking, dangerous, or traumatic event
  • Social anxiety
    • When a person experiences symptoms of anxiety specifically relating to having interactions with other people or being in public settings

Both PTSD and social anxiety can explain why parents who have lost their children in public might develop a fear of losing their child again in the future. Each of these mental health disorders can cause a parent to avoid public settings, particularly ones similar to where the initial incident happened. When this happens it can create a sense of avoidance, isolation, and further mental health concerns.

How to Avoid Losing Your Children

When it comes to venturing out with your children it is important to stay present with them: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many times, taking your children to the museum or the pool is not only play time for the child, but a social experience for the parent. For some parents, it is the only time a parent gets to socialize with friends or other adults during the day or week. Hence, staying present with your child is key. Here’s how:

  • Limit adult interaction
  • Know your child’s cues
  • Set boundaries with your child for how close they must stay to you
  • Keep your personal items close by and organized so you can move around with your child easily

Managing Your Anxiety

It is important to manage your anxiety if you lose your child in public, but also be able to manage any anxiety you may have about being in public in the future after you have lost your child. This is important not just for yourself, but for you child. Passing your anxieties onto your children is not healthy for anyone, especially your children. Here are some tips for managing your anxiety:

  • Breathe
  • Stay hydrated
  • Talk to friends on your own time about time management
  • Make time for yourself
  • Create smart and healthy habits for being in public with your children
  • Talk to a therapist about your anxieties regarding your children and/or being in public
  • Relax, parenting is not easy!

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