Frustrated when your child runs away? Learn how to stop your toddler running away in a 3-step coaching model.
It’s frustrating not to mention stressful when your toddler sprints off down the road and doesn’t understand how precarious it is.
Maybe you’ve tried everything to get your child to listen and follow a simple command like “Holding hands when crossing the road.” And it’s leaving you and your child discouraged and you begin to dread leaving the house.
Why can’t my child just listen?
The Language of Listening® frame-work I use says that all children have 3 healthy needs.
- EXPERIENCE: I have this body; how can I use it.
- CONNECTION: Feeling noticed, understood, validated, loved and sense of importance
- POWER: Feeling confident, in control of self, able to make an impact on the world.
It’s important to remember that whatever your child is doing is always meeting their need in the way they know-how.
Let’s look at her behaviour through this lens:
Often in situations like these, our kids are meeting all three needs at once.
She wants to run as fast as she can = her need for experience
She turns around to check you’re following her = her need for connection
She may be showing you that she knows the way home or to the shops = her need for power
She may not listen and keeps running = her need for power
Understanding her need helps you to find a solution.
First things first. Get your child to stop.
When my daughter was young and LOVED hoofing off down the road I would shout out “You’re running the wrong way!” It would have the immediate effect of stopping her in her tracts. Even if she wasn’t running the wrong way. I wasn’t ‘telling’ her to stop, a big thing for little ones! She stopped herself.
If she’s not too far, you can call to her “OH my! You are SO fast…can you run to me and show me JUST how fast you are.”
And sometimes, you might just have a mad dash to catch up with her.
When she does come back, or you get her back. The First step in Language of Listening® is ‘SAY WHAT YOU SEE®.”
“You were super-fast, and you wanted to lead the way AND that was too fast and too far. That’s not safe.”
SAY WHAT YOU SEE® gets you on your child’s side; she feels understood AND at the same time you get to hold your boundary – no punishing or telling off needed.
|A great tip when your little one doesn’t want to hold your hand crossing the road. Use SAY WHAT YOU SEE® “You REALLY REALLY don’t want to hold my hand. You don’t like it one bit. AND it’s my job to keep you safe.” Often that’s enough for your child to feel understood and willing to hold your hand. Even if it is with a sulk.
The next step in the Language of listening® is offering a “CAN DO”
You help your child to find a way to meet her need AND one that is within YOUR boundary. That’s what I call a WIN-WIN.
That’s what your child can do within your boundary. First, ask yourself “What is OK?”
Can she run to the next tree and then stop? Can she run ahead of you and has to hold your hand crossing the road? It’s important to be clear on your boundaries. But expecting a rambunctious toddler to hold your hand the whole-time walking is a big ask and one that could set you up to fail.
This can-do strategy is so useful because it focuses on what your child CAN DO to meet her needs within your boundaries.
|“You want to run super-fast. AND I need to keep you safe… Look at that tree, do you see it? You can run to that tree and stop and wait for me… WOW! Look at you. You stopped. What tree next?
“You want to lead the way. AND we need to walk. You show me the way. You walk and I’ll follow.”
“You want to run, you’re such a great runner. AND we can’t run right now, it’s not safe… let’s scuttle like hedgehogs, or creep like a sly fox.”
The third step in Language of Listening® is “STRENGTHs.”
This helps you focus on what is going right and acknowledges any steps in the right direction.
|“You’re staying close to me. You know how to stay safe.”
“You ran to the tree, AND you waited for me. You remembered the rules. You stayed safe!”
“You don’t like it AND you held my hand crossing the road. Now we’re all safe!”
“You were running super-fast AND you turned to check I was coming, that was responsible.
The premise behind using STRENGTHs is that kids act according to who they believe they are. The benefit of looking for those strengths and pointing out to your child their strengths is that your child starts to see themselves as able AND you get more of the behaviour you want to see.
Sometimes our child needs more practice and support if running off down the road has become a daily occurrence.
This is what Language of Listening® calls SUCCESS TRAINING
Success breeds success. So, this means, not only acknowledging all the steps in the right direction with naming the STRENTHs but find times when your child can be successful.
Here’s a few ideas for you to try that worked for my children and many of my clients.
1. I used to play the STOP game at home with my toddlers, we would put on music and my children would run around until I shouted STOP. That was their cue to stop and freeze. And then I could heap on the STRENGTHs “You stopped! You remembered to STOP. You remembered the rules.”
2. Before you leave the house remind her of the rules for walking down the road or when you’re out and about. Be sure to ask her to repeat back to you. Ask questions.
“What are the rules for walking to the playground? Where do you have to walk?”
“That’s right! You remembered the rule. Stay close.”
“And when we cross the road what do we do? Yes! We hold hands to stay safe.”
And when you want to run, what’s the rule? Yes! You can run to the nearest tree/lamppost and wait.
Do this often before you start the outing.
And remember to keep up with naming the STRENGTH when you have success.
3. Some more strong-willed kids hate being told what to do, (power struggles anyone?!) I find they love having a secret code word, one you both can agree with. Bonus! They find it hilarious and they stop running off without you having to tell them too. Remember to practice what they’ll do when they hear that word. Our code words were Silly bananas and poopy unicorns. It almost always got my daughter to stop and come running back to me.
4.We also used to play follow the leader and the person in front gave directions. Great practice in following skills.
And I have to say, some days with little ones, things just don’t go to plan. Maybe your child is tired, hungry or overexcited or maybe you’re at the end of your tether and you have to call it quits.
When my daughter was a toddler, she was way more impulsive than my son, and sometimes her impulses got the better of her, I had very clear boundaries. “You run off; you sit!”
When she bolted, I knew that it was too much for her. So, I calmly strapped her into the buggy. And said. “It’s too hard for you right now, it’s mummy’s job to keep you safe. We can try again later.”
I know how a toddler on the loose is enough to drive any parent to panic. The worry of knowing she tends to do this over and over again can leave a a quick trip to the playground stressful.
You now have the Language of Listening® 3-step coaching model to better respond to and even put a stop to your toddler running away.
Focus on what is going right, even if that means tiny steps in the right direction. Try and see your toddler’s antics as a normal stage of development and not naughty or defiant behaviour. (This will help you stay calmer and better able to deal with the situation.)
Always start each interaction with SAY WHAT YOU SEE®
Find a “CAN DO” what she can do that fits within your boundary
Remember to name her STRENGTHs
I’d love to know how you get on implementing this 3-step coaching model and how you can swap a once stressful situation into a calmer and enjoyable one. Comment below.