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Running From a Caregiver (in public places)

Many young children run away from their caregivers in public places.  You may find yourself conflicted about how to react, due to anxiety, anger, and/or concern with what others will say or do.  Some tips:

“Buyer Beware”

Before entering a store, prepare by minimizing what you carry (e.g., perhaps leave your pocketbook behind and carry only necessities for the trip).

“Let only you judge you”

Remember that what others think of you is irrelevant.  What’s most important is your child’s safety.

Here’s A. T.I.P.:


There are some potentially dangerous situations that many parents choose to avoid with their young runners (e.g., the mall, the grocery store).  Avoiding these situations may make sense and may help prevent injury or a more serious problem, however, the use of avoidance begs the question: “When will your child actually learn to remain near caregivers in public places?”  If you don’t like the “wait-and-see” approach of Avoiding, and you are not content to wait until he matures, perhaps a more proactive solution to the problem is indicated.


Parents may choose to educate children (who are capable of processing such instruction).  Instructions may include statements such as: “Use your feet for walking, not running,” “Stay near mommy because I need your help,” “Stay with me because I love you and I don’t want you to get hurt or lost.”  This is an excellent approach, however, if your child keeps testing limits and running away, in the name of safety it may become necessary to intensify your approach and move from TEACHING to PUNISHING.


In some safe areas, a parent may choose to closely watch and let your child run off within confines (e.g., a large fenced-in ballpark).  The hope is that he discovers that he/she is alone, and then learns to stay near Mom or Dad. Of course, to “ignore” your child’s running away in most situations poses a possible danger and is therefore usually not appropriate.


Although the word “Punishment” may be politically incorrect, by definition to “punish” simply means to decrease a negative behavior.  Effective punishment is humane, immediate, powerful (but not harsh), and consistent.  When your child runs away in a public place, you may, for example, (1) safely restrain him in a stroller/shopping cart  (ignoring his screams and the glares from strangers), (2) use “over-correction” and carry your child back past the point where he/she initially ran away (repeat over and over as necessary because, remember, for punishment to be effective it must be consistent), or (3) if you so choose, leave where you are.