Helping all children become happy learners
How do you respond when your child runs off?
Very young children generally like to stay close to a parent when out and about and particularly when in an unfamiliar place or with unfamiliar people. As they get older and grow in confidence the distance extends but most children like to keep an eye on where their parent or trusted adult is. When a young child becomes angry and upset and runs away from you, or quite commonly refuses to keep walking alongside you, they are left with two choices. They can try and make their way home independently or they have to return to you. A third option of going off and never seeing you again might be said in the heat of the moment but the reality of that choice soon becomes apparent and sometimes emotionally over-whelming.
Children generally need to feel very confident in their ability to navigate their way home to actually run off. Older children who are used to going around their neighbourhoods independently are more likely to do this than younger or less 'street wise' children.
Most children will want to return back to their parent but they will prefer to do it on their terms. Children who stop and refuse to go on during walks will often wait until their parent is just out of sight before continuing to walk. Sometimes this momentarily loss of sight of their parent is enough to get them to quickly catch up. Though the cycle can often start again!
The advice here is for children who are generally developing without any history of reckless and dangerous behaviour that has led to hospital treated injury.
Try to stay calm and avoid chasing after your child. If you chase they will tend to go further. Chasing your child increases the risk to your child as they try to avoid being caught.
Time to come back
With older children it can be important to give them time to become calm again. Keeping your distance so they have space to be on their own can help them process their thoughts and feelings.
Carry on walking when children refuse to carry on. Try to avoid looking back in an obvious way. If going to a point out of sight of the child slow or pause so that they have a chance to respond. Try to count to thirty slowly before checking where they are.
Wait for their return
Staying where you are and allow the child time to come back and return to you. Try to keep emotionally neutral so you do not overwhelm them but talk positively and encouragingly. Praise them for coming back.
Some children do not like to break rules and so if you create a set of written down visual rules for when you are out and about they may be more likely to follow them.
Creating a social story about running off may work with some children.
Back to index of articles and resources for Parents