In the first week of May this year 3-year-old Joshua Childers decided to go on a hike. His adventure lasted three days and two nights through a heavy rain and in 40 degree temperature in Missouri’s Mark Twain forest, 53 hours in all. When he was found by search teams what he wanted most was a glass of milk. According to doctors there was no reason he should have survived.
It’s unclear exactly what helped Joshua survive exposure. Young Childers didn’t say much, perhaps he’s not a good interviewee, or perhaps he’s got a book and movie deal lined up. News reports, however, reveal a couple of keys to his survival:
- He found water. The child told doctors that he drank water from a stream.
- He had a goal. Joshua told rescuers that he was going to his grandmother’s house. Many people panic when they discover they are lost, and start doing things that increase their danger.
- He found shelter. This last part is speculation, but the family dog – which went missing around the same time -may have kept Joshua warm at night.
There are a few take-aways from Childers’ adventure. For one thing, parents need to be aware of the “only a couple minutes” disaster window of opportunity. Childers’ mother had been on the phone for just a few minutes and that was all the time it took for the child to wander off. Next, if you are going camping or to a park near an open space with young children, spend some time “woodsproofing” them. Finally, if you’re heading into the woods it wouldn’t hurt to learn some basic survival skills.
Things a parent can do to help a child survive being lost in the woods:
- Teach her to hug a tree – and talk to it. This helps the child calm down and stay in one place. Most children are found within a one mile radius of where they were last seen. Talking to the tree can help rescuers and rescue dogs locate the child.
- Make a nest. A hole in the ground and a blanket of leaves can help a child survive a long cold night in the woods.
- Leave a mess. Matted down grass, broken sticks, piles of rocks – these are the things rescuers look for. Normally you want to teach children to “tread lightly” in the wilderness, but when a person is lost the more clues the better.