Nov. 15, 2021

Ask Margaret - How Do I Get My Kid To Stop Running Away From Me?

Preschoolers love to run. It helps them flex their new-found independence and gives them an exhilarating feeling of freedom. But this behavior can be frustrating – and frightening– for parents. So how do we get our kids to stop taking off on us?

If you've ever had a child bolt from you in a parking lot or at preschool drop-off, you know it can be a scary experience. Today's question comes from email:

I am a mother of 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. In the past six months my daughter has been running out to the car, not listening to me when I ask her to walk with me or when I say "stop." I'm always asking both my kids to "stop" and "come back."

It became almost a dangerous situation for us just yesterday when my daughter just kept running through the parking lot during school pickup. She thought it was a game and began giggling when I yelled "Come back!" I was partly terrified and partly so angry.

I love my kids to the moon and back, and I know part of this is four-year-old boundary-testing, but my job as a parent is to keep them safe. How can I teach and motivate my kids to walk with me and not to run ahead?

Signed, Needs Daughter To Walk With Me

Sometimes when we are reactive to our kids' behavior – like when we yell out because we are terrified of them running into the street – they find it hilarious. The solution? Find a special word that you can use calmly in these situations. Margaret offers the example "red light."

In a calmer moment, explain to your child that running away is dangerous and against the rules. Tell them that you have a special word like "red light," and when they hear "red light" they must freeze. They are not allowed to move again without your permission. Practice this, and remind them when heading anywhere that you expect them to stay still if you say it. Then when your child takes off, say "red light," and try to keep the emotion out of it, which can be tough. Then, if the child keeps running it is time for immediate consequences, whether that means returning to the car to "try again," or leaving the activity altogether.

A few stern and consistent "red light" reminders should make a big difference in your child's behavior.

Check out this article by Corinna Vangerwen for Today's Parent: 5 ways to get your preschooler to stop running away from you

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