When your toddler likes to run off

Parenting Styles   |   Age: 1 year 11 months

When your toddler likes to run off

There's a beautiful moment of excitement, joy, and pride when your child takes her first steps. She finally did it; she's walking! Then, reality sets in. your baby can walk now. And soon, she can climb. And if she keeps progressing, she'll be running before you know it.

As every parent eventually learns, once a child starts being mobile, she gets very mobile. Many children will take any chance they can get to beeline to an interesting object, explore a new area, or test the limits of human speed. If your toddler's way of seizing the day is running off on you, know that you're not alone. If you're looking for ways to manage it, you're in the right place.

Be clear about expectations

The best way to catch a running toddler is to make sure she doesn't start running. When you're out and about, try to give clear instructions about what you expect during your trip. If you're walking through a store, tell your baby that you want her to stay with you, maybe with one hand holding you or the cart, and not touch anything without asking. If you're at a playground, say that you expect her to stay on the mulch or within a certain boundary.

If she starts to deviate from that, ask her to remember what you said at the beginning of the trip. If you threaten consequences, make sure to give specific warnings beforehand and follow through on whatever you say. If your baby runs off and you tell her to come back before you count to three, make sure you have a game plan in case you actually get to three.  

Practice at home

The second-best way to catch a running toddler is to make her run back to you on her own. If you like, you can play games at home that simulate the runaway effect. Some parents play "Red Light, Green Light," where you tell your baby to go when you say green light, stop when you say red light, and slow down when you say yellow light. If the game is a hit, the commands might translate well to real life.

Games like this or Simon Says can help because they give you built-in strategies for talking to your baby while she is a little far from you, and they help you stay calm. It might be necessary for you to raise your voice a little to get your baby to hear you from far away, but try to avoid yelling if you can. The last thing you want to do is turn the situation into a chasing game where your baby gets a kick out of your frustration and repeats her actions.

Use distractions or strategic placement

If your baby seems like she might be gearing up for a run, plop her into her stroller or in the front of a cart. Maybe your baby will be perfectly content sitting and won't have sprinting on her mind.

She might need a book or a toy to entertain her during the journey, but that's okay as long as you come prepared! She might also just enjoy talking or playing "I Spy" with you. If all goes well, your baby doesn't even need to know that her placement was a running-prevention strategy in disguise. If all doesn't go well, your baby is already in prime position to be steered back home.

And as for staying sane? You just have to keep in mind that almost every parent experiences the panic of seeing the glow of their child's metaphorical tail lights in the distance. And all that exercise is great for her health!

If it's a consistent problem, think about sitting your baby down and explaining how it makes you feel when she runs off and how your number one priority is her safety. You can say that you're happy to take her to a place where it's safe for her to run and play, but if you say it's not safe, you need her to listen then and there. And don't forget to praise her when she does listen!


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