I was more worried about the part where Charlie was punched in the face playing tag than I was about the part where he walked away from camp unnoticed and had to get help from a stranger.

Is that weird?

Yesterday at day camp pickup, Charlie immediately started telling me about how he was punched in the face during a vigorous game of tag during one of his breaks. He has a loose tooth, and so I wanted to make sure everything was okay.

And I have a distrust for other people’s kids, I’ll be up front about that.

As we spend a summer at day camps around the city, our boys are playing with different kids each week. Not everyone has the same parenting style, not every kid plays by the same rules, and I often find conflicts in how things are, how they should be, and how they could be. So Charlie getting punched in the face? I wanted to know what was going to happen to the other kid.

Except he didn’t get punched, it was more of a flailing arm that caught him, the instructor explained to me before the tone in her voice started to get more serious as she explained the rest of the story.

After getting smoked by the flailing arm, Charlie walked away from the group to go to the bathroom in one of the nearby university buildings. None of the day camp leaders noticed. He just disappeared, and nobody realized he was gone .. until he was brought back by a kind stranger who found him alone and crying.

So there’s a bunch of things going on here.

My kids can be runners when they get emotional. When they’re upset, they will leave immediately to be by themselves. It’s happened on vacation, it’s happened on field trips, it’s happened before and so I wasn’t shocked that it happened again.

Day camps are ever changing dynamics. New kids arrive and leave each week making it hard for instructors to know the intricacies of each child. Charlie’s group is for kids 7yrs +, so is there a reasonable expectation that a kid wouldn’t wander away at that age? I’d say yes. Good instructors will be active and involved in free play and if they were playing tag, they necessarily wouldn’t have noticed him leave – it can happen.

I’ve lost my kid before, I’m sure you have, it happens. It sucks, but it happens and it happened here.

The next part, though, is the most interesting to me and the part I want to underline, highlight, and hope hits home with you.

When Charlie realized he was lost, he sat in a chair and started sobbing. He was alone, he was scared. He was in a big university building and he didn’t know how to get back. Universities in July can be huge, empty places, so I’m sure he was terrified.

Someone came along a few minutes later – a man (gasp!) – and helped him. Think about how you would react if you saw a sobbing child in an empty university. The guy did all the things any common sense person would do: he asked where his parents were, he asked why he was there, he asked who he was with, he put the pieces together and then helped my son find his day camp group.

Like any reasonable person would.

In a day and age where parents will drive their kids 2 blocks to school instead of letting them walk by themselves, we’ve bubble wrapped our brains so tight in STRANGER DANGER!!! that we’ve forgotten how to trust.

Are there serious lessons here? You bet. The day camp leader apologized up and down for the situation and informed me a report would be filed. My wife and I re-explained to Charlie the importance of staying with a group or, if he wants to leave, to tell someone first. We talked about looking for someone with a uniform or name tag if they get lost, and taking a deep breath and being a confident big kid.

We didn’t talk about stranger danger.

People are good. People are caring. People will help lost kids find their parents / class / day camp.

What’s your take on how things played out?

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