We're not talking about running a few minutes behind because you decided to swing through the Starbucks drive-thru on the way to school pick up.
What if you are truly late -- you underestimated the time you could get across town and got stuck at every single light on the way or you were in a meeting that ran 15 minutes late or you were at home and just plain lost track of time?
Here are seven tips to help ease this tricky parenting situation.
Check with your child's school about their dismissal policy
Are the kids released to the parent or caregiver by the teacher or does the teacher just open the classroom door and let the kids go free? Whatever your school's system may be, make sure that you know what it is so that you aren't waiting in the parking lot for your child while they're waiting for you at the classroom.
Pick a meeting spot
Every family should have a special meeting spot at the school -- this is a place that you will both remember easily. You can use it on a daily basis for after-school pick up (for example, you always meet at the apple tree next to the front entrance).
Make it clear that this is where you will always pick them up, so if you're running late you can be sure to find your child here or in case of an emergency where you couldn't come pick them up (like an unexpected car accident or pesky flat tire), a school official could go find your child here with your assistance and take them to the office until you arrived. This meeting spot can also come in handy at busy school events, in case you get separated from each other.
Make sure your child knows your cell phone number
By kindergarten, your child should have your phone number memorized. And in an age where home phones are often replaced by cell phones, make sure that they know the best number to reach you.
Just moved to the area? Use this as incentive to get your phone number switched to a local number as soon as possible -- many school phones don't have the capability to call long distance without a special code, which may make you harder to reach. For older children, consider a child-friendly cell phone to use in situations exactly like this.
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Have an insurance policy for when they can't remember your phone number
If your child is upset that you haven't arrived to pick them up, they may have a hard time remembering your phone number. A trick that covers more than one safety base is to write your phone number on the inside of their shoe.
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Make a family password
We hope that this is never the case, but if for some reason there is an emergency where you aren't available to pick up your child and you aren't able to talk to them to arrange alternative transportation, you need to have a way to let them know that it's safe to go home with a family friend or another family member.
Pick a family password that is easy for everyone to remember, but not common enough that a stranger would be able to figure it out by chatting with your child -- maybe the name of their grandparents' dog (not yours) or the name of the city you grew up in. Make sure the password isn't something that changes, such as their favorite type of cereal or sports team.
A family password also does double safety duty when it comes to strangers -- if someone claims to have permission to pick them up, but doesn't know the password, your child will know it's not safe.
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Do some "Mommy is late" rolE playing
Just like you practice what they should do at home if there is a fire or other emergency, practice what they'd do if mommy was late to pick them up. Ask them questions and make them walk through it at school, as if you weren't there, to make sure they feel comfortable getting to a meeting place, finding the school office to call you or going home with a family friend who has been given your family password.
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Deal with the emotional aftermath they may be feeling
So, after all of this, what happens if you actually are late to pick them up one day? Even if the steps from your back up safety plan have fallen into place easily and they are just waiting casually at your designated meeting place, remember that it can still be pretty traumatic and thoughts of "Is mommy ever coming to get me?" start in their young minds pretty quickly.
Be sensitive to their feelings and make sure you are early to school pick up the next couple of days. You can also expect that they may be extra clingy or emotional in the days following -- extra hugs and verbal reassurance are the best remedy.
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>>> Have you ever been significantly late to pick up your child from school? Share your story and the strategies your family uses to keep safe in the comments section below!
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