After a long winter, spring has finally arrived. The daffodils are in full bloom and the trees are starting to turn white with blossoms. We have an extra hour of sunlight and we are ready to, “let them go”. It is time to open those gates!
As the doors open the expression on our toddler’s faces become picture worthy. We watch as they eat sour strawberries, hold a lady bug, or dig in the dirt for the first time. In that moment, everything seems perfect. And then it happens … our toddlers run! This is a big problem because you are a parent of multiples. One is heading north and the other one south. Say good-bye to the perfect afternoon, because you are now in a state of panic.
This subject gives me post-traumatic stress thinking about it. My twins loved to run and it scared me to death. I had my share of humiliation and shedded tears of defeat. With that disclosure, I hereby claim that I am not an expert; however, I did learn a few tips along the journey:
1. Practice Patience
Toddlers start “running” around 15 mo. of age. They are exploring a new world and learning how to set the boundaries. It is important to remember that our children are not trying to be naughty or rebel against us. They are in, what pediatricians call, the “exploratory state”. At this age, they cannot fully comprehend the dangers involved with running away. Be patient. They won’t stop running overnight, but if you practice persistence the situation will improve a lot faster.
2. Set Boundaries
If you are taking them out to play, give them a visual boundary. Teach them that they cannot go beyond a certain point. Toddlers identify everything with the senses. If they touch, see, and hear something they are likely to comprehend it longer. Walk the boundaries with them so they understand where the stopping point is. Use a tree, a rope, or draw a chalk line to visually identify their boundaries. Reward and encourage them when they stop where they should.
3. Talk Expectations
Before you leave the house, set the expectations. Explain to them what you are going to do, and tell them what you want them to do. “We are going into a parking lot with lots of cars and I need you to hold mommy’s hand.” Keep it simple and help them to understand the importance. Ask them a question at the end of your instruction to ensure they understand. “Can you hold my hand?” Toddlers will forget what your expectations are, so remind them throughout your journey. If your toddler takes off, try to avoid using the words “no” or “stop”. Instead, try sentences like “stay on the grass”, “slow down your feet”, or “can you show me freeze”. Talk to them while walking and they are likely to stay with you to have a conversation.
Identify your safe spots. This may be a fenced in yard or a park. Take them to the safe spot and let them run. Giving them the freedom to explore in a safe place will reduce the number of times they run off in dangerous situations. As you allow them to run, keep them within a safe distance and utilize this time to practice boundaries and the following tools.
5. Teach Them Danger
This is the perfect age to start teaching your toddler about things that could hurt them. Don’t be afraid to use the word “dangerous.” Do it in a way not to scare them, but allow them to see why it is not safe to run off. Let them see the cars moving around them. In the grocery store, show them how you cannot see someone after they turn a corner. Explain that if they can’t see mommy, she can’t see you. Songs and books on the subject are great teaching tools.
6. Remember Safety
You are a parent of multiples. You don’t have one toddler to chase; you have two or more. Don’t worry what other people think — do whatever you feel is necessary to keep your children safe. Remember that no amount of instruction will guarantee that your toddlers will not run off. It is important to take responsibility to ensure your child’s safety. In busy traffic areas or in large crowds use a stroller, a strap, a back-pack leash, or a walking rope. Find out what works for you, and use these tools to keep them at your feet.
7. Hands On
This tool is all about keeping their little hands close. It is easy for the public to suggest that we hold our toddlers hands while in route. As a parent of multiples we know that this is not always possible. It is important to teach them to “hold on”. When hands are not available, encourage them to hold the stroller, a grocery cart, or even your pant leg. In a parking lot have them put their hands on the car. We do this daily! You can get Disney car magnets (and other decals) that attach to your car. Put them on the doors and have your kids put their hands on the magnets while you unlock the doors.
As they start to earn your trust, let them help. Allow them to take turns pushing the grocery cart. Have them hold the cans or take food off the shelves. Ask them to pick out oranges for you, or to put the peanut butter in the cart. This will keep them engaged and prevent them from running off. As you walk to the park, ask them to help you pick the flowers (dandelions) or to help you push the stroller. They love to help!
9. Make It Fun
Play games that will teach them not to run off. “Green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop.” Practice this in your safe spot and as you are driving around town. Allow them to run on green light, but stop on Red Light. ‘Catch me’ and ‘Tag’ are also fun diversion games. A child will often run off in hopes that mommy will catch them. Reverse this. If they start to run off, have them catch you. These games will help teach them to come back and stop on their own. Another favorite is a game we call ‘hop scotch’. As they walk the squares of the sidewalk we tell them to hop on one foot, two feet, turn-around, jump, or freeze. These types of games will redirect their focus keeping them close.
10. Create Rewards
Try to avoid consequences such as taking the child home or cutting the trip short. This may be the attention your child is looking for or the response they were hoping to get. If you cut your grocery trip short because your toddler runs off, then your multiples learn to control the situation. Don’t make this a habit. Instead, redirect your focus to rewards. Use short and long term rewards that they can relate to.
Remember that you are not alone in this journey. I can guarantee it won’t be easy. Your toddlers are not naughty. They are not out of control or disobedient. Your toddlers are confident, smart, and happy children that see doors wide open. They are setting out on a journey to explore the priceless moments of life. Laugh with them and help them see the sights.
Minden Buckingham lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Mike and fraternal twin girls, Hanna and Emma. She has two bachelor degrees from Portland State University in Business Management and Human Resources Management. Minden is a stay home mom and enjoys the outdoors, photography, and writing.
Or You can just pick your favorite to run after… lol