It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to have their child runaway into a parking lot or busy street. You’re carrying three bags of groceries and a baby, and your oldest decides to make a mad dash across the highway. You are scared to death. Teaching listening skills that will keep your kids safe is harder than you thought.
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Just last week a reader of mine wrote to me and shared this frightening story…
“On Sunday, we had an incident with my niece that scared me to death. She has developed a habit of running off from her mother when it is time to leave the park or get in the car at Gam Gam and Papas. She ran off and was at least 30-40 ft from my sister, too far, in my opinion, for my sister to catch her if she ran toward the road. That was the horrifying part. She was maybe 10 feet from the road during a large chunk of this. My sister was walking behind her, not wanting to run and create a game out of it, which is good, but so dangerous. I’m now having waking nightmares of my niece running into the road. When she came around the corner of the yard and headed back to the house, I yelled sharply, “Autumn Grace, stop!” She took another step or two, slowly, so I yelled again, “Stop!” She did and her mom caught up, but I did not think it would have worked by the road.”
This happens all the time. It’s scary.
How to make kids listen is a common struggle among parents. I too had a child who was a notorious runner. Several months ago my heart was racing so fast, I thought it might burst from my chest. I stood on the sidewalk with my two-month-old wrapped against me in a Baby K’tan. My oldest was about 100 feet away from me. I didn’t know what to do.
I cupped my hands around my mouth, and yelled as fiercely as I could muster. The panic and fear in my voice was palpable.
“STOP! RIGHT NOW! STOP!”
With each passing shout, my son ran further and further away. This was go time. I had to run, Baby K’tan and all.
I was running down the street with a two-month-old bouncing up and down in a Baby K’tan, yelling at my runaway child to stop. People were driving by and starring at me running like a crazy possessed mother who lost her child. I was a total freak show.
The methods you tried aren’t working.
I recently talked about how to teach kids to listen in unsafe situations, but the parking lot situation is HUGE, and what you need is a step-by-step guide to teach your kids how to stay safe in parking lots, streets and highways.
You’ve tried shouting. You’ve tried bribing with candy and other rewards. You’ve tried the most serious punishment you can think of because you didn’t know what else to do. And you’ve even contemplated putting your child on a leash. We’ve all been there. Because we want to protect our babies. Because we are scared.
Teaching Listening Skills in Parking Lots and Highways
My step-by-step method is based on Say What You See® for Teachers and Parents, which I highly recommend to all parents. Before you dive in, remember that kids need lots of practice to learn this skill. It is going to improve your child’s learning by ten-fold if you practice this several times per week as an exercise, not just in the real-life moment when it happens.
Before you get out of the car, leave the house or exit the building, set the stage by saying, “You and mommy are going to walk into a busy parking lot. There are lots of fast cars. You need to stay close to mommy so that you can stay safe. We have to look for cars. If you run into the parking lot and there is a fast car, it would hurt you very badly.”
How much you say to your child is going to depend on their developmental level. For a younger child, the shorter your instruction, the better. For an older child, more detail is welcome.
Help your child learn what they can do to stay safe. Several examples include, “You can hold my hand to stay safe.” Or “You can look for cars to stay safe.” Or “You can walk next to me or sit buckled in the stroller to stay safe.”
The more you can repeat the words “stay safe,” the better. You want this phrase to be the lightbulb switch in your child’s brain.
As you approach a street or parking lot, teach your child how to look for cars and explain what would happen if a car was present and they ran.
“We are close to a street. We always look for cars both ways. Look there’s a car. And there’s another car over there. If you ran in front of the car, and the car didn’t see you, it could hit you and that would hurt very badly.”
This is where the real learning begins because you are going to use “strength-training” to help your child learn what they did well. Share your child’s strengths, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It may sound something like this…
“You know how to stay safe. You look for cars and stayed close to mom even though you wanted to run and play a game. You handled that really well!”
“You know how to stay safe from cars. I’m proud of you.”
“You know how to stay safe in a parking lot. And you did it all by yourself.”
Help your child stay safe.
I still remember the days when my son would run from me, thinking it was a game. It’s hard to forget the day you suffer a minor panic attack and a pull hamstring from running after a young child with a two-month-old wrapped around you. It’s hard to forget the day that people watched and wondered what in the world was happening to that crazy possessed mother. This would be me.
This exercise is going to take practice with your kids. Give it several weeks of trying and working on it, especially if you have younger kids! But…
When your child gets beyond arm’s reach, and a car is coming, and you know that he knows how to keep himself safe, you’re going to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Print this free printable!
Chances are, you aren’t going to remember the steps listed in this blog post. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you and created a free printable to help you remember the easy 4 step method! Get it sent straight to you inbox!
Here’s a sneak peak…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly parenting newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Use it as a quick reference to keep parenting simple!
Want more on parenting?
- 15 Awesome Listening Activities for Kids
- 5 Genius Following Directions Activities When Kids Won’t Listen
- How to Teach Listening in Unsafe Situations
- 3 Things Every Parent of a Strong-Willed Toddler Should Know
- What No One Tells You About Parenting Toddler Boys
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with teaching your child to listen, this series will help transform your parenting. Yes, really. I've seen my proven strategies work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
After taking my free email series, you will:
- Learn simple, yet highly effective listening strategies
- Experience a stronger connection with your child
- Enjoy more peaceful parenting days
- Gain more cooperation from your child