What to Do When Your Toddler Runs Away
My heart was racing so fast, I thought it might burst from my chest. I stood there on the sidewalk with my two-month-old wrapped against me in a Baby K’tan. My two-and-a-half-year-old was about 100 feet away from me. I didn’t know what to do when your toddler runs away.
I had to think fast. My eyes surveyed the situation. I saw three things: road, cars, running toddler. My heart continued to pound against my chest.
Thud, thud, thud.
Thud, thud, thud.
I cupped my hands around my mouth, and yelled as fiercely as I could muster. The panic and fear in my voice was palpable.
STOP! RIGHT NOW! STOP!
With each passing shout, my toddler ran further and further away. This was go time. I had to run, Baby K’tan and all.
There I am running down the street with a two-month-old bouncing up and down in a Baby K’tan, yelling at my runaway toddler to stop. People are driving by and starring at me running like a crazy possessed mother who lost her child. I was a total freak show.
When Your Toddler Runs Away
If you ever find yourself in desperate situation similar to mine, you are going to want arm yourself with some parenting tools to teach your toddler to listen and stop when they are told. Don’t make the same mistake I did and turn it into a chasing game.
We saw major results with the following techniques.
Play Come Back to Mommy.
This takes some time outside of your regular routine, but I promise it's worth it! At least twice a week set aside 20 minutes, and take your child and another adult outside to a safe environment. While you don't want to encourage your child to run away, you do want allow your child the opportunity to run away. Remember we want them to run away in a controlled situation so we can teach them how to come when they are called.
How Come Back to Mommy works:
- When your toddler runs away, say, Come back to mommy! (or whomever)
- Then use a gesture or a sign to wave your child back to you.
- The second adult is the person who runs after your child.
- Upon reaching your child, the second adult says, Mommy said come back. Let's go back to mommy!
Practice this Come back to mommy game 3 times and then try it again later in the week. Each time you practice this game, it reinforces the behavior to come when they are called.
Practice Hands Please.
Each time we go out in public, our toddler is required to hold our hands or walk bedside us. After one too many run away incidents, we decided this was the only way to keep him safe. The world is black and white to toddlers, so they do not always understand holding hands only sometimes.
We now keep very firm rules about safety because it yields better results. There are many neighborhoods that are safe and relatively car free, yet we require him to stay close because he doesn't fully understand the difference between a busy parking lot versus an empty parking lot.
Here's how Hands Please works:
- Getting out of the car, we ask him, Would you like to hold onto the stroller or hold mom's hand? Usually he chooses one or the other. Sometimes, I simply hold out my hand and say hands please. We ™ve been practicing for so long, that he usually complies with those two simple words.
- If he refuses either choice, we give a consequence. Hold hands or we cannot xyz. There are times when he drops to the ground and refuses either choice. Sometimes this means we have to leave. This isn't the particularly fun part, but enforcing consequences and setting a boundary is important. Maybe there is a better consequence that works for your family. I say, do what works for you!
There are many ways to teach toddlers to come when they are called. But these are two that worked the best for our family.
The day I had to catch my toddler.
This is the stuff nobody talks about in parenting books. That your toddler is going to run away from you and think it's hilarious. That you are going to suffer a minor heart attack and a pulled hamstring from running after a toddler with a two-month-old wrapped around you. That people are going to watch and wonder what in the world is happening to that crazy possessed mother.
Hang in there, friend. Grab your child, brush your hair out of your face, and call it a day. Wake up tomorrow and start anew with a few rounds of Come to Mommy or Hands Please. I promise they are worth it.