No sooner do you lift your toddler out of the car, set him down on the sidewalk, and turn to wrestle his stroller out of the trunk than he suddenly darts away. I think most moms tend to stay fit at this age because they are constantly running after their child.
Children ages 1 to 3 tend to be impulsive, so you cannot expect your teachings to ensure that your toddler always will do what is best for her. Toddlers who wander or run away for any reason are at risk and need the adults in their lives to protect them. For example, because of their small size and limited traffic experience, toddlers suffer the greatest number of pedestrian injuries, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
What are steps to keep young children safe, while allowing them freedom to grow and explore? See below.
Why Toddlers Run Away
Most children begin to walk, talk, socialize and solve problems during the toddler years. Toddlers naturally are inclined to discover and experiment with independence. However, they are not yet able to determine what is safe and have not learned to stop and think about consequences. Curiosity and lack of impulse control lead some toddlers to test their new freedom by running away, while others might wander off to look at something interesting.
Stay close to him.
If you’re in a safe, open space where you can see your toddler and he can see you, it’s okay to let him run ahead of you. Most of the time, if you don’t yell or run after him, he’ll stop on his own, turn around to see your reaction, and run back to you when he sees you’re not coming after him. But don’t take any chances if you’re in a crowded area or around cars.
Set Limits, Follow Though
Tell your toddler how you expect him to behave before you begin an errand. But make sure you really spell it out for him. Instead of saying, “Can you be a big boy and hold my hand?” say, “Remember, you need to hold my hand when we’re in the mall.” Expressions like ‘big boy’ often backfire. Toddlers turn around and say, ‘I don’t want to be a big boy!’”
Parents must make clear to toddlers that there are consequences for running away or being wild in public. Tell your child ahead of time that if she cannot stay close or hold you hand, then she must ride in her stroller for a while. Explain that when she is calm and ready to hold your hand while walking beside you, she will be allowed to get out of the stroller and try again. If she tries to run away again, put her back in the stroller and do not waiver, even if she has a tantrum.
Give Specific Warnings
Young kids often forget safety expectations midway through an outing and take off. Instead of simply shouting “Stop!” (which is actually a very abstract concept for a toddler, who has to figure out what it is he’s supposed to stop doing), give a concrete command identifying a specific body part or movement — such as “Thomas, stop your feet!” or “Stay on the grass!” Once you’ve got your kid by the hand again, reiterate the rules.
Distract and Divert
Young children may not remember their parents’ rules and expectations while on an outing, and they might suddenly run off. Instead of chasing a runaway toddler, call his name or say a familiar word or concrete phrase that will stop and distract him. Give him a hug for coming back to your side.
Make Errands Fun
Singing, rhyming, dancing, marching or jumping can encourage toddlers to stay near you while going from one place to another. To focus her attention while out in public, engage your child by playing simple games, asking her to copy your funny movements, saying silly words to each other or playing “Can You See What I See?”
Encourage him when he does well.
When he resists the urge to run wild, reinforce his good behavior by telling him what he did well. But again, be specific. “It’s not enough to say, ‘You behaved like such a big boy today.” Encourage his actions by saying them back to him. Say, ‘I really appreciated that when I called you, you came back to me.’”
Toddlers as Helpers
Toddlers often try to run away because they are bored. Tell your child you need her help picking out groceries, returning library books or taking your dog to the veterinarian. Most toddlers love to help, so give your child a specific job and she will be less likely to wander.
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