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Runaway Kid

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Kid Constantly Running Away

If your child bolts away from you at the first moment of freedom, then you have a real safety issue.

Here’s how you can change this situation.

Purpose of the Behaviour
As always, we must start by trying to understand the child’s motivation. We ask ourselves, "Why do they do it?"

To answer this, we look at what YOU do when then THEY run. Whatever it is, stop doing it. Chances are you’re chasing after them.

STOP participating in this misbehaviour when the situation is safe enough to allow it. You can do this by no longer agreeing to play the "chase me game".

For example, if your child likes to bolt from you when you are helping them get dressed or when you are changing their diapers, don’t chase them. It takes two to play this game. Let them know "I am not willing to play ‘the chase game’. When you want to get dressed come let me know." Then go about your business.

TTFT (take time for training)
Practice walking together side by side. Yes, practice walking.

In some safe place practice offering this choice:

"We need to walk together now. Can you walk beside me on your own, or do we need to hold hands?"

Tip: If you are practicing this with preverbal children, assume they’d like to walk alone if they don’t answer.

Then, let go of your toddler’s hand and see if they stay beside you. If they bolt, grab their hand and say calmly "I see you need me to hold your hand". Walk together holding hands for a short distance and then offer the choice again. Keep repeating this choice until they see that if they would like the freedom of walking alone, they may have it when they also take responsibility for walking safely beside you.

Watch out for the most common pitfall – talking, lecturing, and reminding. If you say anything beyond presenting the choice, you are interfering in the training process by either further discouraging the child with your doubts and disappoints, or by provoking a power struggle.

Give Responsibility
Increase the number of places you let them walk independently and comment only on the success, and say nothing about the times they "make a mistake".

Give More Responsibility
Help them learn that it is their responsibility to know their parents’ whereabouts. Children have the belief that mom and dad will follow and watch for them, so they need not pay attention.

Of course this is not a safe belief. To help them see that they must watch where YOU are, you can set up a safe learning situation by finding a safe place, safe time and a safe distance to let your toddler experience for a brief moment the effects of wandering away from you. Of course you should be vigilant and know exactly where they are at all times. By letting them experience a small controlled version of "being lost" they will see the benefit of paying attention to where you are.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

4 Responses to “Runaway Kid”

  1. Terra

    can you also talk about when it is time to go and the ‘chase game’ that can be played at that time? Is it okay to say “Okay, I’m leaving” (Something I thought I would never do but have done recently)

  2. Alyson Schafer

    I would not threaten “I am leaving”. Why? because if they believe you, they must think you would leave them at any time and that is a scary thought. Alternatively, they DON’T believe you and you look foolish.
    Instead – when its time to go, don’t say “its time to go” from across the play ground. Go right up to them to say its time to go so if they bolt you are right there an prepared to grab their hand to “usher” them out FIRMLY -but also FRIENDLY.

  3. Melisse

    What do you do when your two and a half year old runs away down the street. My DD ran two blocks giggling after we left a store. There were no cars around thank god. When i caught her i was crying and she was unsure why i ruined the fun. I’m at my wits end with the running.

  4. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Melissa,
    I think we have all had that moment of fear that makes us cry and grab them and yell. Be sure to say “You scared mommy – I thought you could have been hurt. Its not safe to run away from me”. Now its time to “TTFT” as I say:
    “Take time for training”. You will have to set up outtings ( in a safe area free of cars) with your toddler with the sole purpose of teaching them to walk and not run away. Hold their hand and ask if they would like to walk on their own. Let them know “If you walk beside me, you can walk on your own, if you run, you will have to hold my hand ( or get back in the stroller, or put the harness on). Then let go… If they bolt ( expect it!) grab their hand and say ” I see you need my help”. Walk to the end of the block and offer the choice again. Repeat until they get that if they want their freedom they must stay in the safe zone near you! – Let me know how it goes. ~ Alyson


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