There is nothing quite as terrifying as the moment you think you have lost your child in a public place,
whether it’s Target or the neighborhood park. It’s quite another experience to think about losing your
child within the 40 acres of Walt Disney World, or any other giant theme park, but that’s exactly what
happened to a client of mine a few years ago. Her extended family was vacationing together which meant
they were keeping up with a big group – 6 adults and 6 kids. It was nearing parade time in the Magic
Kingdom and large crowds were beginning to form on Main Street. To avoid wading through the crowded
sidewalk, my client’s group went left to cross the street. Her 7-year old son kept walking straight. By the
time they realized he was no longer with the group, they were in the middle of a sea of people and her son
was nowhere in sight.
No one likes to think about losing their child at Disney but unfortunately it sometimes occurs. If it has
ever happened to you, you know that your blood pressure skyrockets, your breathing quickens, and you
begin to panic. More than likely, you aren’t thinking clearly which means it’s not the time to think about
how to keep your child safe at Disney. The time to think about child safety happens before you
ever enter the parks. The following five, simple steps will help you create a plan so that everyone in
your family or group knows what to do and is prepared to stay safe at any Disney theme park.
Show your kids how to identify a Cast Member wearing a name tag
As soon as you check into your resort, show your kids the name tags that each Cast Member wears –
from the Cast Members at your Disney hotel to the Cast Members selling souvenirs and everyone in
between. Teach your kids that these are safe adults and can help them if they ever need assistance.
Write your cell number on the inside of their Magic Band
Use a permanent marker to write your cell number inside your child’s Magic Band. Cover it with tape
(or clear fingernail polish!) if you are worried about it rubbing off. Tell your child to show your phone
number to the nearest Cast Member if they lose sight of you. In a pinch, you can also write your cell
number on your child in an inconspicuous place like on their upper arm under their shirt or on their ankle
under their sock.
Take a picture of your child each morning.
If you are panicked that you can’t find your child, you won’t be able to remember which Disney shirt
you put them in that morning. Take a photo each morning so that you can immediately show it to the
nearest Cast Member for an exact description of what your child looks like that day.
Assign an adult per child or, if you’re traveling with older kids, use the buddy system.
Large groups and families frequently go to Disney together but oftentimes, they will split up to do
different rides and meet up later. All of this moving around means that sometimes kids can get lost in the
shuffle. At the beginning of each day, assign an adult to each child to minimize head counts; you’ll be
better able to focus if you know which children you are supposed to be keeping an eye on instead of
assuming they’re keeping up with the group.
Wear bright colors or matching shirts to make it easy to find your child in a crowd
Moms at Disney love matching shirts because they’re cute and fun, but they can serve a greater purpose
for safety. Bright or matching shirts are a great way to keep track of your group in a crowd. It makes it
easy to quickly scan and find your people whether it’s your wandering child or your mother-in-law who
decided to check out the nearest souvenir shop.
Other tips when traveling with older children are to use the Find My App so you can see where they
are in the park. Agree on meet-up times and locations and put it in their notes (so they don’t have to
remember) or set an alarm in their phone. Another great tip is to use walkie-talkies that provide
immediate communication and don’t have to rely on cell service to send messages.
If your child does get lost, you can have peace of mind in knowing that Disney has an amazing protocol
for lost children. As soon as a child is identified as missing to a Cast Member, they spread the information
to every other Cast Member in that area and they all begin a coordinated effort to locate the child. (There
is also an incredible security camera system throughout the park but that’s a post for another
day). If the child is younger than eleven (11), a Cast Member will escort the child to the nearest Baby
Center and work to contact the parents. This is why having your cell phone number on your child is so
helpful! In addition to helping to locate the parents, Cast Members are trained to keep children as calm as
possible until they are reunited with their group.
So, what happened with my client? As soon as they realized her son was no longer with the group, the
adults (who all had the daily photos on their phones) spread out to begin looking for him. Each adult
located the nearest Cast Member, showed them his picture, and the Cast Members began their lost child
protocol. The Cast Members were patient and encouraging with the otherwise slightly frantic adults.
Meanwhile, a couple of teenage sisters, not related to the group, noticed my client’s son wandering around
inside a souvenir shop looking very much like the lost child that he was. They notified their mother who
approached the boy and asked if he was lost. He replied yes and then showed her the cell number written
on his shoulder. The mother of the teenagers immediately called my client, notified her of their location,
and stayed with the boy until he was reunited with his family. In addition, the Cast Members remained in
contact with the adults until the boy was found. Because my client had taken some of the steps outlined
above, her son was located within minutes. What could have been an extremely stressful and harrowing
experience was mediated by having a safety plan. And afterward, everyone got some ice cream at the
Plaza Ice Cream Parlor because ice cream is the answer to a lot of life’s stresses.
It’s not pleasant to think about losing your child at Disney but unfortunately it sometimes happens. By
taking these five simple steps, you can help minimize the chance that you will get separated from your
child. You can feel confident that you have a safety plan in place so that you can focus on having fun.