Does Your Child Know What to Do if they’re Lost in the Outdoors?

It’s a sad fact that hundreds of children get lost in the woods each year, even in areas close to civilization. Most are eventually found, but a few perish – often due to hypothermia. It’s not a pleasant subject, but it’s an important one. Every parent should sit down with their children and have a serious talk about the best ways to survive in the woods if they should ever find themselves lost. Children do unexpected things in the outdoors, like wandering off alone when they’ve just been in trouble, or getting lost because they were ‘following a cute squirrel’. Here are a few important points to teach your kids:

1. Assure them that they’ll never be in trouble for getting lost. Children may hide from searchers if they’re afraid of punishment.

2. Show them how to ‘play scarecrow’ if they get cold. Demonstrate how they can stuff leaves and dry grass into their clothing (shirts, pants and even shoes) to help stay warm. Cold is the main enemy in these situations, so tell them not to lie down on bare ground, if possible. Show them how to collect a thick, comfortable pile of leaves to rest upon. The higher the leaf pile, the better their survival chances on a cold night. They can put some leaves on top of themselves for extra warmth, too.

3. Explain the ‘hug-a-tree’ concept. This means they should stay near a ‘friendly tree’ to wait for rescue, rather than wandering aimlessly in the woods. Staying in one spot is Rule Number One. Another useful idea is to ‘answer noise with noise’. If they hear a sound, their reply will either (a) scare animals away or (b) help searchers find them.

4. Children often have a harder time following a marked trail than adults do. Some children get lost because their parents have let them get too far ahead (or behind) the family hiking group. Everyone should stick together and always be within sight of each other.

5. A good habit for both adults and children is to periodically look behind them on the trail as they’re walking; the reverse trip will then seem much more familiar.

6. Whenever you take a child camping or hiking, make sure they’re carrying two things: a whistle around their neck, and an orange garbage bag in their pocket. These signalling aids can make the difference between life and death. Orange plastic is very visible to searchers, and a whistle is louder than shouting (and takes less effort).

7. Water on the ground may not be safe to drink, but rainwater in tree trunks or rock hollows usually is. Teach kids to use a T-shirt or bandanna to mop up dew from wet plants in the early morning. They can then wring out the moisture to get a drink. Children should be told not to eat strange plant foods (especially mushrooms).

Make sure you’ve prepared your children for a day in the woods. They should carry their own little pack with survival essentials like water, snacks, a flashlight, a favorite book or stuffed animal for comfort, and some spare clothing for warmth. One useful trick is to have your child step firmly on a piece of tin foil with their shoe, and keep that foil footprint impression with you. Alternatively, take a photo of the bottom of your child’s shoe. If searchers need to go looking for your child (especially in areas where there are numerous confusing prints), these simple steps will be a big help.

by Kevin Casey

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