3 Year Old Running Away from Me

Updated on May 05, 2011
M.M. asks from Rockford, IL
25 answers

Any suggestions on how to stop my 3 year old from taking off on me? I'm at my wits end. Today he took off in a parking lot and I was so furious and scared that I spanked him. I've never spanked him before and I feel horrible but he could have been seriously hurt. He knows exactly what he's doing since he turns around and giggles when he's taking off. I also have a baby generally in a stroller or the cart etc. so I can't exactly leave her where we are at to run after him. AURGH!

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So What Happened?

Thank you! I need to be better at telling him what I expect beforehand and also not letting go of his hand. I do make him hold hands but many times he starts freaking out so I give him a chance to let go and that's when the trouble starts. I don't believe in harnesses although if cracking down on him doesn't start working within the month I might have to reconsider. He's definitely challenging me on many levels right now and he just turned 3! I want my baby back :-)

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answers from Cumberland on

That's a no-no-running away and spanking-get a harness! They are comfortable and humane and may save a life!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Get a leash, one that goes around the chest not the wrist. You can get ones with a cute stuffed animal backpack for about $10. The backpack kind you can have stuff the leash part in the pocket if you aren't using it. I would try him on the leash and explain it is to keep him safe until he can remember to follow directions that help him stay safe. You could also get a double stroller if you can find one at a yard sale or someplace that isn't too expensive (since you may not use it long).

I'm guessing he is trying to get attention (I also had a 3 year old and a baby at the same time). My son also tested limits a lot when I was pregnant and couldn't chase him. He got time outs wherever we were until he got it. If you are shopping and can get a cart with a toddler and a baby seat you can use the toddler seat for a time out. A few times he ran while someplace dangerous and I held him in a bear hug from behind for the length of a time out. He hates to be restrained so this got his attention and I only had to do it a few times. I also once let him get "lost" in the grocery store for a minute or so (I knew where he was but I was out of his sight at the end of the aisle for a short while). He was scared enough to stay with me. I think he was 4 when I did that. Also my mom helped him learn his full name and both my and my husband's first and last name and what to do if he was separated from us. 3 is a little young to stay calm and ask for help if lost but by 4 or 5 a kid can for example go to customer service and have a parent paged by name (my sister did this once when she was 5 and got lost in the grocery store). You may as well start laying the foundation for those skills.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

When my children were toddlers, I used to have the keep one hand on the stroller or shopping cart at all times when we were walking in the parking lot. I also had the carry around the toddler-sized rolling backpacks filled with their favorite toys and books whenever we were out in public places. It's hard for them to go very far when they are weighed down like that or rolling their backpack behind them.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Honolulu on

At 2 years old my son would do that.
Due to safety, I got him a harness. A cute one that looked like a monkey.
He didn't mind.
I had people, actually tell me "Good for you..." when seeing me out with him especially in crowded areas.

My son, as most kids are, he was REALLY fast when running. And I am a runner and was in school too. I can run fast. But he always outran me. Even for a 2 year old.

One man told me, I am GOOD to do that... his Grandson, was a runner and actually got hit by a car on their street and died.

A Harness, serves a purpose.
For this phase.

Kids at this age, do NOT have, fully developed Impulse-Control, yet.
Their minds and limbs... are not, synchronized.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Margie that is so funny. I have a good friend who also used (still uses with her grandkids) "Hands on the van!" She said she got some strange looks once in a while.... all the kids looked like criminals rounded up! LOL

I always held onto the wrist with my son. He too would try to make a run for it. You just don't let go. Tell him in advance that is what is going to happen...you are going to hold him by the wrist until he is in the car. One day when he can walk with you and not let go of your hand you will do it that way...but for today, you are holding his wrist. Let him know in advance that if he twists, it will hurt, but you aren't letting go.
Then stick to it. A moody kid is better than a squashed one.
He is also old enough to start explaining the reason why it is so important (at his height, cars backing up can't see him). I found that giving solid, simple, explanations about safety considerations helped my son be able to control himself.
My daughter on the other hand, voluntarily held my hand until she was about 7 years old. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Do not let go of the 3 yo hand. Keep him in cart. I NEVER let go of my
3yo hand, ever. They cannot be trusted even if they are the best kid on the
block. They have no impulse control.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

First off, I don't believe in leashes. I understand they serve a purpose, but still...

I agree with prior posts that the spanking, albeit disheartening for you, was likely justified. I too have resorted to the reactive spanking - although it caught both of us off guard, I think it did get the kid's attention.

There are "Sit and Stand" strollers, or double strollers for just this purpose.

My suggestion is to explain beforehand how you expect him to behave. While you're shopping or whatever tell him what's in it for him - if he behaves, then he can have some fruit snacks in the car.

I realize this is "bribery", but for 3 yr olds, they still think with their stomachs. Give him some relatively healthy treat as a "reward".

Right now for him being mischievous gets your attention-probably especially when he's bored - after shopping, tending to the baby, etc. Tell him how proud you are of him for his good behavior. Tell him that when he's near the street he needs to hold your hand, the stroller, etc.

If need be explain to him how BAD it will be if he gets hit by a car or lost. He's old enough to get a little scared. These are very real, serious consequences.

Finally, PRACTICE with him at home or in your yard. I'm doing this right now with our toddler. We "play" stop-go in the house. When I say stop, he MUST stop. When I say, go, it's ok to go. These little games are teaching him S.T.O.P. means STOP, and I'm not very nice if he doesn't stop when I tell him. Practicing at home leads to better experiences out.

Don't be too h*** o* yourself for spanking him. Although it was a knee jerk reaction, this is something he MUST learn and behave.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

The simplest solution to this is don't let go of his hand if you're holding it he can't take off.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I would have done the same.....they can run out in the street or in back of a parked car so fast. I suggest a child's harness. They are just SO fast.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Shreveport on

I am a paranoid mom, and I just do not let them not hold my hand. My almost 2 year old now reaches for my hand when we get out of the car. If she doesn't hold my hand, she doesn't get to walk. I am also not a fan of those harnesses. I believe that the kids can "escape" from them. Good Luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

They didn't have harnesses when mine were little, but hey had a leash that was like bracelets from their hand to mine, the velcro was heavy duty so they could not rip it off. They HATED it, I used it only a few times and they learned. I always kept it with me.
Funny story, once when my oldest was 9, she kept walking ahead. I kep telling her to stop doing that because she needs to see me as much as I need to see her. She didn't listen. So one day when she was pretty far ahead, I ducked into a clothes rack. I could see her but if she turned around she could not see me. Well, when she turned around she FREAKED! Then I came out where she could see me. She learned her lesson...at least for a few years anyway. Now she's 13...loves to walk ahead, but makes sure she's not too far.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

we hold hands in the parking lot, no other options, freak out or not,
we hold hands cars can hit little ones they don't see.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Some lady went off on me yesterday at the grocery store because my 2 year old took off and it took me a minute or two to find her. She is fast and I had my other one there too so things get crazy in an instant. I'm so over all the running away too. Errands are just exhausting. I get that they're little and they love to run around but it's killing me!!! (And I got yelled, like I LEFT HER or something).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Whew! Glad you caught him! We were at the zoo this past wknd and this lady had her kids wearing the cutest little backpacks. At closer glance. They have a rope/string attached to it! Genius! Kinda weird to put my gal on a leash though! I would just try to explain to him the dangers of not sticking by mama. Best of luck!



answers from Oklahoma City on

I also talk to my 4 year old and tell him what is expected. But he still sits in the basket, to and from the car, and does not have the opportunity to run off unless I drop the ball and let go of his hand. It is my job as the parent figure to be the boss. A 3 year old is NOT old enough to make these decisions about his safety. It only takes on car backing out and hitting him, they can't see him because he's shorter than their bumper.



answers from Detroit on

I'm not a fan of spanking but I think this might be one of those instances where it's justified because he needs to realize that you mean business! My DH's ex had to do this once to their son when he decided to run out into the street - it was somewhat reactionary but she also figured better he get a swat on the rear than get hit by a car! I guess it depends on how he reacted to the spanking - if it got his attention and he cooperated or he cried or if he just laughed or didn't seem to care. There are things that my 3 year old does that I don't like and I've found that with her that it helps to remind her ahead of time what I expect her to do and how she is to behave and what she is not to do. You might have to let him know first that he is to either hold your hand, or hang onto the cart, but he is not to run away from you - and that if he does it again, there will be a consequence, like a spanking, or having to ride in the cart. My stepson above used to do the same thing to his mom and she would just make sure that as soon as she had him out of the car, she had a grip on his hand or his arm. No matter how much he resisted, she would not let go. Sometimes he even tried to make his hand smaller to try to slide it out from her hand but she still held on. She said she swore it felt like she was going to break a bone, she had to hold him so tight, but at least he could not get away from her and after a while realized that he was not going to win. The only other thing I would suggest would be, if possible, is to do your shopping when someone can either stay home with him and you leave him at home (so he learns that the consequence of not behaving for Mommy is to not get to go), or leave the baby at home so that when he does go out with you, you will be able to deal with him one-on-one.



answers from Cincinnati on

I love my harness....I dont use it very often though...only when I know we will be outside for a period of time and she will be walking..if its a quick trip to the grocery store, I dont have the harness, but she has to hold my hand (or your stroller)...if she doesnt, It has been seen me dragging or carrying her to the car and then she gets spanked...so hard at that age..they have no self control.



answers from Chicago on

I haven't read through all the answers but wanted to tell you what I do. I have 3 kids, my oldest is 7 so when she's with, I make the rule that my 2.5 yr. old has to hold her hand-she's very cautious & always by my side. When it's just the 2 little ones I wear the baby in my ergo or another sling & put my 2.5 yr. old in the cart or stroller. That way, everyone is contained & I have my hands free. At this age their impulse control is almost non-existent & they are unable to logically understand consequences, so I don't even set my kids up to "do wrong" in this situation. I personally feel like 2-3 yr. olds should not really be walking through a parking lot, even holding hands because most are waaay too short to even be seen by drivers,.whether they're holding your hand or not. The mall or store, different story, but I just don't take my chances around 2000lb moving objects.



answers from Dallas on

SuperNanny teaches the technique of requiring the child hang onto the stroller, chart or your hand until he learns. Also you may check out how Love and Logic could be applied, its another technique I like!



answers from Eugene on

When my kids were that age I taught them this game: When they'd least expect it, I'd call their name and shout "come here!" and start counting. They'd try to come as fast as they could, and see how few seconds it took to get to me. I'd make a big deal of it when they "beat the clock". By doing this, my kids got in the habit of running TO me instead of away from me when I called. This really came in handy when they were running towards something dangerous and I was stuck on the other side of the park with a baby. Rather than screaming at the top of my lungs for them to stop, I'd just call them and they'd stop, turn around and come back to me.



answers from Denver on

I haven't read through the responses. I have a 3yo daughter. I talk to her about situations and remind her each time we enter into a situation what I expect her behavior to be. For instance:

When we go into a parking lot I would say:
"Sophia, I need you to hold my hand. There are cars that drive in this parking lot and I would be sad if you were run over."

I say this every time. I repeat my words/expectations for every situation as we enter it. She behaves 95% of the time. If she misbaves she gets reminded of the rule 1 time and then warned of the consequence (logical consequence). For the parking lot- if she disobeyed, she would have to be carried through the lot like a baby. She dearly hates the idea of being treated like a baby now that she's a "big girl". So, that is effective for me.

Best wishes with your little ones-



answers from Oklahoma City on

My son is two and a half and he does this as well. Usually when we are doing something fun and he gets excited and doesn't listen. I give him a few warnings and then it's time to leave if he doesn't listen. I'll be curious to see what your responses are. Good luck!


answers from Phoenix on

My oldest (now 12) used to run off in stores all the time (not so much in the parking lot). Ended up having to do the leash thing with her, as I tried the hiding thing so they would think they got lost. She was too independant to care if she got lost. She had a bad habit of wondering off even as she was older. Even though she knows the rules.
With my 4yo, she did get scared when she thought she was lost, and never really ran off.
My 2yo is more like your son. He'll take off down the street laughing as he looks behind him (and he's a year younger that yours). I have a harness for him that looks like a monkey. At first he didn't want anything to do with it. But, now he LOVES it. Asks me to put it on him even at home. Then he has his sister hold the end and they play with it that way. Harnesses are not a bad thing, and sometimes are just needed with those that refuse to cooperate any other way.



answers from Chicago on

I have 3 yr. old twins and one of them does the same thing when I pick her up from pre-school. I've tried talking to her about it the morning of before my husband drops her off to set expectations for her. Then as we're walking out of the pre-school I try to remind her of what we talked about. So far it's worked once and I just started it this week. We cross a parking lot so even though she says she's looking both ways I don't like that she's on her own. I've gotten mad numerous times but have now just made it a rule that we stay together, especially near parking lots and streets! Hope this helps!



answers from San Francisco on

my 2.5 year old is a runner, well, she just recently started actually. I put her in a cart now every time. And if we are not doing a cart she is to hold hands in the parking lot even if she is kicking and screaming. She tries to sit down and throw a fit in the street and I just pick her up and carry her to the car or wherever. I know you can't really do that with your baby with you too, but I think you (and me lol) need to just be a little bit more in charge, and plan ahead because you already know he is a runner. Do you have a stroller?
I think they will grow out of it eventually... lol

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