This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

The Head Count Rule is the best little parenting hack in the book!   We have kitchen hack for kids and morning hacks – so why not throw in a parenting hack to make life easier!

A group of kids posing for the camera.

Today’s guest post comes from Rachel, a busy, homeschooling mom of 6.    Every parent has had a moment that scares you so much it forever changes the way you do things. We’ve had a few of those, unfortunately, but with 6 kids something is bound to happen from time to time. On the plus side, we never make the same mistake twice but we are sure collecting some interesting stories along the way.

One of those moments has permanently changed our routine when we get in the car to go anywhere. We call it the headcount rule and it an important habit because it guarantees that we will never leave a kid behind . . . not that we would ever do that.

You know how they always say, “you’ll laugh about this someday”? It’s taken me several years to even admit that this happened so I’m still getting there.

First, a little background. We were visiting Las Vegas for the weekend a few years ago and had two cars of people when we stopped for a quick fast food lunch. With my family plus extra assorted relatives it was chaos. When we were ready to leave everyone scattered. Some kids were in my car, some yelled out that they wanted to be in the other car. My husband and I looked around when the dust settled and didn’t see any more kids running around so we hopped in the car and headed to my brother’s house not far away.

We hadn’t been there long when my husband’s phone rang. I will always remember this conversation because my heart stopped when I heard my husband say, “I left what at the restaurant? My son!”

I frantically looked around and counted kids. Who was missing? How did I not notice that someone was missing!

Sure enough, my 7 year old son was no where to be seen. I checked my own phone and my panic escalated when I realized that I had 12 missed calls. I hadn’t heard any of them because my sound had been turned off. The poor kid had been trying to call me for 20 minutes and I hadn’t even answered my phone! Mom of the year award right there.

It turns out, as soon as we said it was time to go, my 7 year old took off and went to the bathroom without telling me. This particular kid is known to take his time doing things, so, in all likelihood he was probably hanging out into the bathroom singing a song, not even wondering what anyone else was doing. By the time he came out of the bathroom, both cars were gone and he didn’t see anyone in sight that he knew.

Fortunately, he had memorized both of our cell phone numbers. I hate to even think what would have happened if he hadn’t known how to contact us. We frantically rushed back over to the fast food restaurant and found my son sitting calmly at a table. I was fully convinced child protective services was going to be there waiting for us. The employees just kind of rolled their eyes at us. I mean, really, what kind of people leave a kid behind?

I promised them we’d never done that before (and you’d better believe we’ll never be loosing a kid in public again) before grabbing my son and apologizing while wondering if we’d traumatized him for life.

We learned a few important lessons that day.

1. Make sure your kids have ALL your phone numbers memorized.  Here is one easy way to do it. 
2. If the routine changes at all, pay extra special attention.
2. ALWAYS count heads before going anywhere and every step of the way when you are away from home.

That day The Head Count Rule was born. This rule actually goes back to one of my old jr. high teachers. Every day, instead of taking attendance she’d have each of us take turns saying our last names in alphabetical order. We all knew where we were in the line so we could shout out our last name and the whole class was accounted for in less than a minute. It was genius. If someone was missing you knew because there was a pause. The teacher would just make note of who wasn’t there and we’d move on.

Obviously the last name thing wasn’t going to work for my family but we could do the same thing by counting. Now, every single time we get in the car (coming or going) I yell “Headcount!”.

One by one my kids start yelling out their numbers. My oldest son yells “one”, second oldest yells “two”, and so on.

The only hangup we’ve had so far is my 2 year old daughter who is technically number four but insists that she is 2. She’s finally starting to get that four is not her age but her number in the car but for the longest time we settled for any noise she wanted to make because we still knew she was there.

The head count rule took a bit of practice but now it’s second nature and we know right away if anyone is missing.

Do you have any tricks you use to keep track of kids when you are away from home?

Rachel is a busy, homeschooling mom of 6 (including infant twins) who has plenty of experience trying (and failing) to do it all. She writes at where she shares simple solutions for busy moms, including kid-friendly recipes, stress relief tips, and parenting advice. You can find Rachel on Facebook or Pinterest. The twins may or may not have taken over her Instagram account.

teach your kids their name & phone number

make each child feel important

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

You May Also Like

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.