Dear Kid Whisperer,
What do I do when my 3 year old runs away from me? I don’t want to try to chase after her and I don’t want to resort to man-handling my daughter. -Ellen, San Juan, Puerto Rico
So far your daughter has learned to play a fun game called “The Mommy and Me Grand Prix”, whereby she runs and you run after her. It is exhilarating for her. It involves making an adult run around like a crazy person, and then once that big, crazy adult catches up, said adult may even show a lot of anger while emoting. What fun! A race followed by a show! Your daughter gets to create a highly stimulating, entertaining situation just by running away. This is why she is running away.
No amount of talking or lecturing will help you to get her to stop running because she loves the show, and she still got to race.
I am going to request that you please do “man-handle” your daughter. It’s good, it’s healthy, and it’s fine. You are bigger and stronger than your daughter for a reason. Calmly, firmly, and gently stopping your daughter from running says to her “I love you, I’m stronger than you, you do not get to decide what you get to do right now, and I am in charge.”
For some reason, our society has gone down this ludicrous road whereby we have decided that children somehow know what is best, and if we just leave them alone and give them everything they want, they will make safe, healthy choices. This is nonsense. Kids’ brains aren’t fully functional. Their elevators aren’t going to the top floor. Of course your kid doesn’t know what’s best. She’s 3. She’d probably eat paint if you let her.
Simply position yourself within arm’s reach of your kid when you want her to come to you or walk to another location. You should no longer call her from another room or from across the room until you have retrained her to not run away. Here’s how I would start to train your kid to keep the brakes on after nonchalantly walking within arm’s reach of her:
Kid Whisperer: Honey, it’s time to walk to the car.
Kid: SO LONG SUCKER!!!! Kid makes a break for it.
Kid Whisperer safely grabs Kid and carries Kid to the car and firmly but gently buckles her into her car seat, all while singing a jaunty tune.
Kid: That didn’t work out at all!!!!!!
Kids have an excellent sense of the inevitable: if they know that they will be going to location “X”, regardless of whether they try to run or whether they choose to be cooperative and walk there, they will eventually walk there when they realize that resistance is futile.
I seriously want you to sing while transporting Kid. This helps you to remain calm and to avoid saying something you will regret later that may create an unnecessary power struggle. Once you feel that you may have successfully trained Kid, try requesting that he come to you or walk to a location while being farther and farther away. Eventually you will be able to go back to making these requests from other rooms.