Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to Stop Your Toddler From Running Away

I like to tell people that the best way to stay in shape is to have a toddler. Some toddlers stick to their parents like glue and others think that it is constantly a game to try and run away from people. 

Over in our Toddler Approved Positive Parenting FB Group we've been talking about toddlers that like to run away when they are outside or in public places. We discussed some helpful tips that I thought I'd share with you. All of theses suggestions focus on positive parenting tips, so many include consequences but not punishment.




My youngest turns two in about a week and is a big ball of energy. He is the sort of kid that disappears if I turn around for a second and is off running down the street. He definitely keeps me on my toes.

Although it is pretty funny to see his little legs running the opposite direction, most of the time he chooses to run when it isn't safe or when I don't have time to be chasing him all around the neighborhood. 

Typically when we are out in busy or unsafe places I either strap my toddler into a stroller or carry him. I love to give him learning opportunities though, so I try and find times during our day when we CAN practice listening and being safe and NOT running away and I'll let him down.

Ways to practice listening and being safe could include...


  • Playing Red Light Green Light (teaching kids to STOP when they hear you say it)


  • Practicing walking holding hands in safe places like on sidewalks and indoors at the mall




  • Choose something else for the child to practice holding on to while waiting or walking (side of a stroller, mom's leg, side of the car while waiting to walk into a parking lot, etc.)


  • Freeze Dance and practice listening for someone to say stop when the music stops.


Here's what works with my toddler most of the time...


Before we go anywhere I ask my almost 2 year old if he wants to walk or if he wants to be carried/go in stroller. He always says "walk!" because he is super independent. I tell him he has to stay with me if he wants to walk (and not run away). The second he starts running away from me he gets picked up or put in the stroller. I just stay calm with no expression and that helps too with him not thinking it is a game. After being consistent with this for awhile now he doesn't run away as much. I also try and give him lots of running time during the rest of the day so that helps too.

I think it is important to focus on what I WANT my toddler to be doing instead of repeating what I don't want him to be doing. I try and remind him to hold my hand and to walk on the sidewalk or go get in the car instead of saying, "no running" or "don't go in the road." Toddlers often only hear what you say first, so make sure what you say first is what you want them to do. 


Another mom mentioned that she says "HAND" and holds out her hand and waits as soon as she gets to the door and her toddler has to hold her hand before they are able to leave. If the child won't hold her hand, he is picked up. This works great with kids who really want to walk because they are motivated to listen and hold hands in order to get the opportunity to walk.


The main thing I have learned with trying to stop toddlers from running away is that you have to decide how you want to handle the situation and then you need to be consistent. 


Toddlers aren't going to always love the consequence of having to be carried or having to sit in the stroller if they run away, but if you consistently set the limits and follow through right away (no repeated warnings), they eventually figure it out... although some take longer than others. My toddler will protest and cry and yell, "walk!!!" when I put him in the stroller or pick him up and I'll wait for awhile, remind him of my expectations,  and then I'll give him another chance.

Here are some suggestions I've heard from other moms of toddler runaways...


Moms I have talked to have mentioned how they have special snacks on hand for when their kids are good listeners and walk to the car (instead of running the opposite direction into the street). The kids are then excited to get to the car because they know something good happens once they are in there.

Several moms I know have mentioned the leash backpacks or having some sort of ring that their child holds on to. Some parents use the leash backpacks respectfully and some don't. If parents are yanking on the leash or dragging kids, I don't think they are at all appropriate, but I have watched some friends use them with their very active kids and have seen them used respectfully while also teaching children to listen, stop when asked, and hold hands... so that once the leash is no longer used kids still are able to know the rules and behave appropriately. 

Many moms recommended using a carrier of some sort and wearing toddlers instead of letting kids down to run around. My kids hate being in carriers once they are over one-years-old but I know several toddlers who love it!

When we are in the grocery store I try and find the cart that has a car on the front of it with seatbelts. I give my toddler the option to sit in the cart strapped in or the car section. Occasionally I'll give the toddler an opportunity to get out and help me with my shopping list but I usually make it very clear what he is getting out to help with and that he is going back in the cart afterwards. I keep small snacks on hand to give to kids who are good at listening and not running around or away from me.

Several moms have mentioned to me that before running errands they will take their child to a park or somewhere so that they can run around for a bit beforehand and get some energy out. Then, they're a little more tired out and more willing to stay close by.

In addition to consistency, practicing appropriate behavior is really important. If toddlers are always strapped into strollers or carried they won't learn appropriate behavior for being out in public.  


With really challenging kids, I would give them opportunities to practice safely several times a week and then also give myself a break and avoid taking them out with me sometimes too. If I know that a specific location is going to be a set up for my toddler, I'll avoid taking him until he is older and more capable. 


Lastly, although we want to teach toddlers how to behave appropriately and we want to be consistent with enforcing limits, we always want to remember that this is a stage. The less we react and the less emotional we are, the quicker most kids will move through the stage and outgrow it!  

Do you have a toddler who runs? When/where do they usually run? Do you have any additional respectful and kind tips to add?


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