The runaway toddler

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

For November, I’m concentrating my writing chops on National Novel Writing Month. Fun! So I’m re-running revised versions of some classic posts. And by classic, I mean “old.” This one was originally from August, 2008. Enjoy!

Holly asked, “Do you have behavior modification suggestions for children who think it is funny to run away when you call them?”

The key here is to practice success—get her used to the fact that when you call her, she will come to you. At the same time, stop practicing failure—don’t instigate or encourage a situation where she can run away from you. In time, she’ll be so used to doing this correctly that you’ll no longer have to be strict about these steps. But for now, this is what you should do:

  • Don’t play any “tag” or chasing games, or any other game that encourages her to run away. I know these games are fun, but it’s practicing what you don’t want her to do. For the time being, play something else.
  • If you’re in a situation where she can run away from you, don’t call her name. First, move closer to her, or move yourself so she’s cornered. Do what it takes so that when you do call her name, she can’t get away. Avoid setting up a situation where she gets to practice running away.
  • As soon as you call her, grab her so she comes close to you. Then thank her for doing it (I know this sounds weird, but make it as if she chose to do the right thing, not that you forced her to.) Say, “thanks for coming quickly when I asked you to!”
  • Only ask her to come to you once. Do not repeat yourself.
  • Try to make it fun for her when she does come when you call. Say “come here sweetie” with love and affection, and if it seems like she really was heading your way, give her extra noogies and affection. Help her realize that it’s more fun to come when you’re called than to run away by stopping the run-away games completely.
  • If by some chance she does “get away,” grab her if possible without saying a single word. Don’t chase her unless you have to (if she’s somewhere unsafe.) Rather, walk towards her without really meeting her gaze or engaging her. You should seem bored and uninterested. Hold her away from you in an unloving way, and put her in her room, alone, for about 3 minutes. Afterwards, open her door, give her a hug, and say with love “don’t run away.” Don’t stay mad at her.

It will probably take about 2 weeks for her to get used to the new expectation of what a “come here” means. There will probably be setbacks, but stick with the plan! Let me know how it works out.

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One Comment on “The runaway toddler”

  1. Steph Says:

    This is almost exactly like how I taught my dog to come. 🙂


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