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Wanders Away

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I don't like it when I lose sight of my child in public places, but I can stay calm. I know I can teach her to stay close and safe, particularly while she is a young toddler and preschooler."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "I think I understand why my child wanders away wherever we go. She is curious and unafraid, and she wants to explore her exciting world. I get that."

Teach. Tell yourself, "I can help my child learn to stay close in public to prevent her getting lost or hurt, and to share good times with me when we're together."

Pay Attention. Keep your eye on your young child at all times. Yes, your phone is calling out to you, but it can wait for your attention. Not only will paying attention to where your child is and what she's doing keep her safe and prevent her from wandering into the street or into a swimming pool, it also is an important way to help build a positive relationship and let her know you care.

Use the Seat on the Shopping Cart. The seat on the shopping cart is there for the safety of young children. Shopping cart seats also come equipped with safety belts that prevent young children from standing up and getting out of the seat.

Make Rules. Children need rules to guide them. For a grocery store rule, for example, say, "When we are at the grocery store, the rule is to keep one hand on the shopping cart at all times. That way, you won't get lost!" Decide what is safest for your child: He either sits in the seat with the safety belt on or he walks beside the cart holding onto the cart so you know where he is. You choose how much freedom your young child can handle at what age. The goal? Keeping him safe.

Praise Staying Close. Make it more attractive to stay close by praising your child every time she does. Say, "I like how you're staying in the driveway," or, "You're being such a good shopper by staying close to me."

Involve Your Child in the Activity. You older child may not need to hold your hand, hold onto the grocery cart, or be pushed in a stroller while you are out and about. To help her stay close, let her hold a water bottle or the dog's leash, if she's able. This will make her feel as if she is an important part of the adventure, and she'll be less tempted to roam.

Use Reprimands. When you see your child not staying close, say, "Please stay close. Staying close to me keeps you safe. Remember the rule about holding onto the shopping cart." If she repeatedly breaks your rule, restate the reprimand and stop the shopping trip until she is either able to follow your rule or mature enough to go with you without her needing to stay right by your side.

Teach Your Toddler to Come to You. During a neutral time, take her hand and say, "Come here, please." When she comes to you, give her a hug and say, "Thank you for coming." Practice this so she learns it's good to come to you when you say, "Come here, please" when you're out in public.

Practice, Practice, Practice. When a rule is broken, simply say, "I'm sorry you didn't follow the stay-close rule. When we go home, we will practice the rule, so I know you can do it." Most children don't like to take time practicing, but it is a consequence that teaches your child what you want her to do. At a neutral time, practice teaching your child to come to you when you ask her to, or use a pretend cart and walk through the house with her holding onto it, just like you want her to do at the grocery store.

What not to do:

Don't Change Your Rules Under Pressure. Don't change your public behavior rules, even if your child yells and screams. For example, if the rule is, "You stay close to the shopping cart", don't let your young child wander around the store even if he wants to. Being firm and consistent will give your child a sense of security. Even if your restrictions may occasionally produce yelling and screaming, the safety net you provide will help her feel protected and keep her safe in strange territory.

Don't Make Threats You Won't. If you know you must continue your shopping trip, don't threaten to go home if your child doesn't follow your rules or is whining or complaining. Making false promises only tells her you can't be trusted.

Don't Take Your Child Shopping or to the Park for Longer Than She Can Tolerate. Some young children can follow staying-close rules for longer periods of time than others can. Get to know your child. One hour may be her limit, so consider that before leaving home.

Don't Let Your Child Stand in the Shopping Cart. Your toddler will begin to resist sitting in the shopping cart seat as he gets bigger. He will want to stand in the cart and have you hand him the items as you fill the cart. Letting him stand in the cart is dangerous and can result in him toppling out of the cart onto his head.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.