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I Asked My 6-Year-Old to Stay Put While I Got Us Food at Newark Airport. But then —

Got this letter recently, from a very shaken mom:

My name is Katy, and I stumbled upon your website yesterday, while searching for stats on how often kids lost at airports get abducted. The thing is, a few days ago my 6-year old daughter got lost (and found) at the Newark airport at the busiest time of the day, and it was all my fault — I overestimated¬†her maturity and ability to wait for me for a few minutes, while I went to buy some food for our flight.
I read your website all night….


Read the rest of the letter here.

The problem seems to be not only that the girl wandered off (only to be quickly found by a helpful stranger). It’s that now the previously confident mom and her previously bold daughter keep rehashing the story and remembering how upset and worried they were.

So the mom asked for help getting over her growing anxiety and guilt, and re-installing her daughter’s sense of calm and competence.

I’ve asked readers to give Katy some kind advice. Please write yours below and I will share some of it in a future post. Thanks! And happier travels!

4 Responses to I Asked My 6-Year-Old to Stay Put While I Got Us Food at Newark Airport. But then —

  1. Fanny Sung July 11, 2022 at 3:03 pm #

    I would love to know the answer to this, specifically how to alleviate kids’ anxiety surrounding this kind of thing. I wrote to you 2 years ago when I left my kids in a car for 4 mins to have a key made in a hardware store and a lady called the cops on me, fire dept came, asked if kids were fine, I told them they were, and they left.

    Now my kids, 2 years later, are always terrified when I try to leave them in the car, even if I forgot to grab something inside the house and have to run in for 1 min. Literal tears. And we live in a quiet neighborhood at the end of a dead end street and we are parked in a driveway, not even on a public city street! If I could see that woman again, I’d give her a earful on how she traumatized my kids, and for what? because she is an EMT and knows the dangers of leaving kids in cars??? Trust people to raise their own kids! SMH

  2. Kenny M Felder July 11, 2022 at 3:47 pm #

    When you are rehashing this story–in your own mind, but especially, when you’re talking it through with your daughter–make sure to go through the WHOLE story. Not just the “you wandered off and I couldn’t find you” part, but also the parts where…

    * Your daughter did not just hide in a corner. She found a helpful adult, and reached out, and asked for help. Good move.

    * The adult (quite predictably!) turned out to be a helpful human being, as opposed to a random kidnapper or terrorist just hoping for such an opportunity. “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Say hello and find out!

    * So that adult did absolutely the right thing, which was to seek out help from someone in uniform.

    * And the person in uniform ALSO turned out to be not-a-random-evil-terrorist, and knew what steps to take, until…

    * Fifteen minutes after it started, the whole incident was over, and mother and daughter were reunited.

    Your daughter, although scared, took some initiative and solved the problem; she should praised and congratulated for that part. The adults around her served as resources and helpers. And everything was OK. Don’t leave out those parts of the story!

  3. Mark Headley July 11, 2022 at 9:10 pm #

    Bravo Kenny! I was tempted to add nothing. I would say: not just don’t leave out these parts of the story. Taken altogether, why isn’t this a reassuring story? That w/ a proper upbringing, kids and parents, and strangers, are all apt to be prepared to react well when an initially scary situation does arise. Bruce Wayne falls — incl down a well; trapped. His Dad, later his butler ask “Why?” “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Batman wasn’t born a hero. He too needed Free Ranging. Don’t we all encounter versions of this if we do Free Range under generally tenable parameters attentive to our kids, our surroundings? My parents let me play in the woods from 3 and 4 — alone, or w/ friends. They told me not to eat stuff there, but I wanted to put most anything in my mouth. I came back w/ blue juice dripping down. My Mom rushed me to an ER, where they rapidly ascertained these were elderberries. Quite safe, fortunately. And fortunately, their parenting didn’t change much. This became even more a matter of emphasis. But I DID learn my lesson. I felt terrible for putting everyone though what I did. Every reason to move on. The scare proved a mighty transformation. Yes, there will be falls. These shouldn’t all be viewed as utter failures. Rather, as opportunities where we learn ever more. Incl. that slips short of perfection can generally turn out fine. That yes, not for nothing we should listen to, abide our parents. We emerge from scrapes tougher, savvier, usually better behaved, no?

  4. Naomi July 12, 2022 at 12:37 am #

    Highly recommend “The Whole-Brain Child” by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. They offer strategies (based on how the brain works) for talking your child through a traumatic event – how to discuss it while being responsive to their emotions, how to help them process the event, and even use the situation to grow and deepen their self-understanding. Each chapter even includes a brief comic to help explain each concept to your child. It’s a quick but very informative and helpful read!!