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When I travel with my older kids, I make sure they stick close by pretty much all the time. The only place where I am a bit lax is inside a museum or park where there is a good amount of space (but still contained) and I will still have a good idea of where they are, even if they aren’t within eyesight at all times. My older kids are very good about holding my hands when we are on the move, and I know exactly where they are 99% of the time.

Thus far we had not had any issues. But then changed when we had a mishap on the Beijing subway during our visit to the Chinese capital in November.

Almost losing my son on the Beijing subway

We had ridden the Beijing subway every single day in the city. The process was the same: buy single use tickets, enter through the gates, make our way to the platform, hop on, then hop off at our destination. It was crowded at times, and we’d had to push our way onto a couple cars, but I’d never been concerned about losing one of the kids. We were always moving as a tight group.

However, as we stepped onto the platform to make our way from Nanluoguxiang to a different hutong before heading to the Lama Temple during our final day in Beijing, everything went wrong. We arrived on the platform via the escalator to a train currently at the platform. A few people were still stepping on, so we made our way toward the waiting train. My son asked if this was our train, and I said yes.

He started moving ahead of me, and right as he crossed into the car, the doors sounded and started to close. Everything was timed perfectly…the wrong way. I was holding my daughter’s hand, and she was a pace behind. I had less than a second to react. Instead of letting go and trying to dive between the closing doors, I didn’t let go of her hand. I was stuck between kids.

My son turned around, panic on his face. He was on the inside, and we were both on the outside. The train would be departing momentarily, and he would be whisked off to the next station. I immediately started yelling at him to get off at the next stop. But through two walls of glass in a noisy station, I didn’t know if he could hear me.

My mind racing, I started thinking through what I would need to do to ensure I didn’t lose him for good. Would there be an agent close by who spoke English and could radio the train operator or someone in the next station and make sure someone found him and waited with him until we arrived on the next train? Would he know to get off at that station on his own?

What to do if you lose your child on the subway

About 7 full seconds passed when the doors opened and we were all reunited. Turns out someone must have been watching the whole ordeal and realized what had happened. I barely avoided losing him. But this prompted us to have a thorough discussion about navigating the subway. I came up with two common sense rules that will not dictate our subway travels:

Common sense rule #1

If you get on a train and dad doesn’t make it on, get off at the next stop and stay put until I find you. Having this in place beforehand would have given me confidence that even if we had ended up separated, I would find my son on the platform of the next station. He would almost certainly be anxious and panicked, but the odds of him getting lost or (God forbid) kidnapped would be extremely low. We would be on the next train, just minutes behind.

I drilled this first rule into their heads, our recent (almost) mishap a poignant example. But we also need a second rule along with it.

Common sense rule #2

If dad gets on the train and you don’t make it on, stay put until I come back and find you. This is simply the other side of the coin to the first situation. I typically have one hand of each child when we step on the subway, so it hadn’t even crossed my mind that this might happen. But now I knew I absolutely had to guard against this eventuality.

If I somehow got on a train without a kid, they would hopefully realize that the logical course of action is just to wait for me, knowing I would come back for them. But as logic is sometimes spotty with my kids, making sure everyone is crystal clear on this point as well was critical.

What to do if you lose your child on the subway

But what if the worst had happened and my son had been whisked away from us at high speed? I’m really not sure what I would have done. We hadn’t rehearsed these rules ahead of time, and he had not been able to hear what I was trying to tell him through the double walls of glass. My only hope would be to find someone who spoke English to be able to alert personnel at either one of the information kiosks or some other part of the subway system and let them know the exact time and direction of the train that departed with my son on board.

But hopefully with a couple common sense rules in place, you would never need to. I hope we never have to use them, but at least we are now prepared in case my kids and I do get separated on the subway. Check out some other tips for navigating the subway with kids in one of the links in this old roundup post.

Conclusion

I am taking no chances. We will review both of these rules from now on each and every time we ride the subway, no matter the city. While I’m definitely not one that sees danger lurking around every corner while traveling, I want to avoid even the remote possibility of losing them. Knowing what to do if you lose your child on the subway is critical, and it was a travel concern that hadn’t even come up on my radar until our incident. Thank goodness that things turned out the way they did!

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