How To Stop Your Toddler Running Off

March 12, 2018
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There’s nothing that stops your heart like the moment you see your child dart away from you when you’re in town. There are so many dangers that possibly await them.

I know what that’s like.

Infographic about preventing your toddler from running off

When my second child was born, my eldest was 18-months old.

I did have a double stroller, but it wasn’t practical to use it everywhere we went. So, it was vital that my toddler learnt to walk beside me without running off.

There are definitely times when it is necessary to have your toddler secured, in which case a stroller or leash is ideal! (Take a look at this post about that).

However, for the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on the things that made it possible to teach my toddler to stay by my side.

3 Ways to Teach Your Toddler Not to Run Away:

#1 Practice At Home

Like so many things that require obedience from your child, it is important to practice this at home.

Teach your child to mind you, immediately.

We don’t count to three in our home because when I ask my children to do something, I want them to do it immediately unless I state otherwise.

This may sound overly strict, but quite frankly, I don’t care.


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My toddler does not understand what is and isn’t a safety issue, and I don’t want them thinking that it is okay to just do things in their own time.

We spend lots of time talking about heart issues and working through emotions with our children. Keeping discipline balanced is something that I feel strongly about.

Read –> How to Have Balance with Toddler Discipline

As a general rule, we require our children to obey right away. However, I will usually sit and talk with them after the fact about why I asked them to do what I did, etc.

Evaluate what you’re teaching

It can be easy to fall into habits without realising what we’re actually teaching our children.

Once upon a time it would be considered disrespectful for a child to decline to give a hug or kiss to a relative.

However, we’re becoming more aware of body safety and how to positively teach our children how to take ownership and put up appropriate boundaries.

Read –> Do You Teach Your Kids Body Safety: 10 Things Every Child Should Know

How to Stop Your Toddler Running Off

We don’t play ‘chase me‘. You know, when the parent says to come and the toddler runs the other way, and then it turns into a game?

I know it can seem funny at the time, but again, for us, it becomes a safety issue.

When I say ‘come‘ to my child, I need to know that they will come to me right away.

A fun idea that I got from another mama is to play ‘freeze’ with your kids.

Have them move about the place and then call out ‘freeze’ and have them stop where they are. This can be a helpful tool in a moment when there’s limited time for action.

While I have said to practice these skills at home, I have found that another great place to practice is at a park with wide open space and no roads or dangers that are close by.

My son gets the opportunity to run and burn off energy while still learning a valuable lesson.

#2 Give Clear Instructions

Don’t underestimate the comprehension capabilities of your toddler.

Whenever we are going somewhere, BEFORE we arrive at our destination, I take the time to talk to my son about what is expected.

Your sister will be in the pram, and you’ll need to walk next to it. I need you to stay in front of me so I can see you. There will be lots of cars so it is really important that you stay close to mama and not run.

Children appreciate you levelling with them. It also leaves less room for confusion.

Set clear boundaries and be prepared to talk about them and reevaluate should they not be working.

Another thing to keep in mind is that their memory may not last very long.

For that reason, don’t have ‘the talk’ too long before you reach the point where your toddler is going to need to remember the instructions.

I would also encourage you to repeat everything as you’re getting your child out of their car seat while making eye contact with them.

Read –> Getting your Toddler to Listen

How to Stop Your Toddler Running off

#3 Use An Anchor Point

For safety reasons, I typically get my youngest out and into the pram before I let my 2-year old out. However, on the odd occasion where that isn’t possible, I use an anchor point.

I get my son to place his hand on the front light of the car.

He knows not to take it off and not to move until I come and get him. You don’t have to use the front light, but I encourage you to have an anchor point that works for you.

Another thing we do is to use his sister’s pram as an anchor point.

How to Stop your Toddler Running Off

I tell my son to hold onto the pram and not to let go. However, I usually ask him in a way that makes it sound like he’s doing me a favour.

For example, “Mama needs your strong muscles to help me push your sister. Please hold onto the pram and help me push.“.

Since writing this post I’ve actually found this great magnet that you can put on your car. You can put it in a place that will be safe for your toddler to be at.


These methods are tried and true, but it really does come down to obedience being required. If your toddler does not respect or listen to you, then you will have ongoing issues.

Nail that down and you’ve conquered one of the biggest challenges.

I don’t mean to sound militaristic. I give my children plenty of grace, but I will always be working towards the goal of immediate, first-time obedience because it really can be a matter of life and death.

Another factor to keep in mind is the time of day and the potential mental state of your child.

Because we have spent time practising the skill of obedience and traffic safety, we rarely have issues with my son running off.

However, I also make an effort not to make trips too close to nap or bedtime.

Being tired isn’t an excuse for disobedience, but it also isn’t fair to expect their best behaviour when they aren’t feeling great.

The same applies to if they’re unwell. One of the first indicators of my son being sick is that his behaviour goes on a rapid decline.

Until next time!

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