Personal and Family Considerations
Chapter 7

Key Points

1. Force yourself to eat, sleep, and exercise. Realize that your ability to be strong and to help in the search for your child requires that you attend to your own physical and emotional needs. If you have trouble sleeping at night or coping during the day, ask your physician for help.

2. Stay away from alcohol, drugs, and harmful medications, which can prevent you from being an effective member of the search team and can even induce depression.

3. Find productive ways to release your emotions, such as keeping a journal, talking with a friend, taking a walk, exercising, cooking, cleaning, or thinking up ways to extend the search. Don't isolate yourself.

4. Don't blame yourself for your child's disappearance or allow yourself to shoulder the blame of others. Treat yourself and others as kindly as you can.

5. Don't feel guilty if you need to return to work. Remember that you are working to provide a home for your child to return to.

6. Stay united with your spouse in your fight to find your child. Don't allow the stress of the investigation to drive a wedge into your family life, and don't misjudge others because their response to the disappearance is different from yours.

7. Don't allow the absence of your child and your deep sense of loss to become a taboo subject. Encourage open discussion of feelings in a safe, caring, nonjudgmental environment during family meetings.

8. Establish different routines for daily life and for celebrating birthdays, holidays, and other events. Find a safe place away from your home -- perhaps with friends or relatives -- where your other children can feel free to play and express themselves, away from the spotlight of the search and the media.

9. If it seems appropriate, allow your other children to participate in the search, perhaps by distributing posters, fliers, or balloons. Remember that both emotional and security issues need to be addressed.

10. Don't be surprised if your other children's behavior changes drastically. Bedwetting, stomach aches, depression, anger, sullenness, quietness, and truancy are common reactions. But remember that children, just like adults, react differently to the disappearance of a child, and some may not show any change in behavior.

11. Help your other children return to some type of normalcy by going back to school, but listen carefully to them before they go. Request that the school bring counselors into the classroom to discuss the situation with the children, and ask your law enforcement contact to arrange for an officer to go to the school to teach the children both how to recognize dangerous situations and how to get away.

12. Extended family members can serve a variety of functions in the search effort -- as spokesperson for the family, coordinator of media events, coordinator of volunteers, or coordinator of searchers. They can also help with posters and fliers, request assistance from missing children's organizations, and gather information to give to law enforcement.

13. Don't try to provide emotional support to everyone in your family. Seek professional counseling for yourself and your children to help you cope.

14. Bring callers up to date on the progress of the search by recording simple messages on your home answering machine.

15. Never stop looking. Dedicate part of each day to your missing child by making phone calls, writing letters, contacting law enforcement, or doing whatever you think will help in the search for your missing child.

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OJJDP Report: When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, May 1998