Our two year old runs away from us!

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Our two year old Sophia has been darting away from us when we're walking through parking lots.  She knows she isn't supposed to do that (of course) but she acts like it's a game, even when we scold her.  I don't know why she's so uncooperative.  She's usually very sweet, but lately she's been a bit challenging. What do we do?

Your little Sophia is doing what two year olds do.  No matter how sweet, cooperative, or responsive your toddler has been, there comes a time when she will defy you. That's because a two year old is at a stage in life when she is declaring her independence from her parents. One part of that declaration is to challenge your rules, even rules that are as important as safety rules.  

What’s surprising to most parents is that It's normal for a two year old to break rules that you have explained clearly to her and that she has obeyed in the past.  As you’ve seen,  she may at times break a rule while looking at you with a smile as if to say, "Who, me, misbehave?"  At other times she may break a rule and look at you defiantly, her face expressing without words,  "So do you think you can stop me?"  This toddler rebelliousness is to be expected--it's a natural part of this stage of development.  Your success in managing Sophia's behavior will depend to some degree on how you react. 

If Sophia learns that her misbehavior, any misbehavior, excites or upsets you, she may continue to provoke you,.  She's not being naughty just to make you angry but because she’s trying to find out what makes you angry.  She's fascinated with the idea that she has power over your emotions.  If you stay calm, she will see you as being in charge and in control and it won't be as interesting to provoke you. 

Sophia can't understand, no matter what you say, that running away from you is dangerous.  She can't imagine an accident or any threat. Many active two year olds will dart away from parents as they walk down the street or through a parking lot or a shopping mall. It's just open space to them. But you can’t let them do that, of course!

Here are some ways to control an active toddler in these situations:

• Before you arrive at a place where you want your Sophia to stay quietly at your side, stop somewhere to let her run.  If you are going to be walking on a busy street,  park two blocks away on a side street go that she can walk a little before the street  is crowded.  If you are going into a store or shopping mall, give her time to run around at a park before you get there.

• Have Sophia sit in a stroller when you know that she will have trouble staying next to you or is likely to run off to investigate her own interests.

• Teach Sophia to hold on to your hand on busy streets and in parking lots.  Since your hands will sometimes be full, teach her to hold onto your pants or skirt fabric as a substitute.  If you want your child to follow this rule, be sure to remind her of it before you begin your walk or get out of the car.

• A two year old who is not willing to stay in a stroller and who will not hold your hand can be allowed some freedom of movement without being in danger if you attach a cord to his wrist and yours.  You can buy or make Velcro wrist-bands with telephone-type spiral cords between them for parent and child.  Although some parents feel that these cords are like "leashing" a child, a parent who has had a near-miss accident with an active toddler may welcome the added security.  Don't  threaten to use the cord as a punishment--just give your child a choice between holding on to your hand or the cord.

• If your child runs away, chasing her may cause her to run farther and faster--she thinks it's a game.  If you can, follow her slowly and get close enough so that she can come to you.  Sometimes, walking up close and sitting down will help her to stop and come to you.  If she's running into danger, call out to someone to stop her. That may scare her and upset her, but it's better than having her hit by a car. 

 • You'll probably have more success with Sophia if you don't expect cooperation when she's tired, hungry, or has been worn out by other stimulation. If she’s already challenging you, don’t add a potential danger to the mix.

• If you find that Sophia is frequently running off and you are always having to scold or restrain her, it may be better for both of you to avoid situations that are "set-ups" for misbehavior.  If you can find a place for her to stay while you go shopping or on errands, you'll both be happier.  This stage doesn’t last long--very soon she’ll find new ways to test your limits!