toddler running on couch
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When your toddler likes to run off

When your toddler likes to run off

There’s a beautiful moment of excitement, joy, and pride when your child takes their first steps. They finally did it; they&;s walking! Then, reality sets in. Baby can walk now. And soon, they can climb. And if they keep progressing, they&;ll be running before you know it.

As every parent eventually learns, once a child starts being mobile, they get 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 they 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 Baby that you want them 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 them to stay on the mulch or within a certain boundary.

If they start to deviate from that, ask them 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 Baby runs off and you tell them 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 them run back to you on their 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 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 Baby while they are 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 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 Baby gets a kick out of your frustration and repeats their actions.

Use distractions or strategic placement

If Baby seems like they might be gearing up for a run, plop them into their stroller or in the front of a cart. Maybe Baby will be perfectly content sitting and won’t have sprinting on their mind.

They might need a book or a toy to entertain them during the journey, but that’s okay as long as you come prepared! They might also just enjoy talking or playing “I Spy” with you. If all goes well, Baby doesn’t even need to know that their placement was a running-prevention strategy in disguise. If all doesn’t go well, 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 their health!

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

  • “Toddlers Exploring the World.” Dealing with Toddlers. University of Illinois Extension. 2017. Web.
  • Tepel, Valya. “Discipline for Young Children – To Prevent Misbehavior.” Virginia State University. Virginia Cooperative Extension. May 1, 2009. Web.
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