Runaway babe: What to do if your child is a ‘bolter’

Posted in Behaviour and Discipline.


If you’ve found yourself at your wit’s end at the park, screeching “come baaaaaack” to your rapidly disappearing preschooler, then lean a little closer to the screen.

“We’re going home now!”

Mum Hayley is in the same boat. She sent an SOS to our favourite Mothercraft nurse, Chris Minogue, explaining her daughter was bolting in the other direction when they were out, and pleading for a fix.

Chris had some excellent, bright ideas, noting that keeping a handle on anger and frustration, and disciplining more gently can help reroute this pattern of behaviour into something less fraught.

“It’s defiant behaviour,” Chris noted. “She’s [often] running away because that gets attention. The most common one is in the park. ‘We’re going home now’ … and they take off in the opposite direction! That is a really common one.”

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‘Gentle consequences’

If your child is doing a runner, Chris suggests taking a deep breath and being more patient than you might think necessary.

“Again gentle, gentle behaviour,” she advises. “I wait for her to come back. I’ve got a lot of patience. I would stand there and quietly wait for her to come back.”

You might be going out of your mind a little with frustration at this point if you are this mum in the park, but Chris says hanging in there and implementing consequences calmly at this point is key.

“Once she comes back … give her a consequence. ‘We are going home now; tonight there’s no stories’ – so my consequence is not out of anger. I’m not shouting at her, but I’m saying if you do that behaviour you’re not listening [to mummy]. That’s effectively what she’s doing.

Toddler running

The skill of patience

Chris says parents are often under the pump, but slowing things down with your child, being patient and encouraging them to listen is what’s at the heart of this issue.

If you’re not listening then this is the consequence, which could be that there are no stories tonight, or no In the Night Garden … whatever the thing is.”

“And that becomes the consequence, and then you’ll see them choosing. You’ll see them choosing the behaviour. ‘Should I listen? Should I not?'”

“It’s actually very difficult at this stage to get them to listen so you have to have a lot of patience. That skill of patience [is vital]. We’re a bit short on time so we’re a bit short on patience.”

Watch and wait

Chris also notes that while it’s great to get down on their level and go eye-to-eye with your child, it’s not going to work if they are halfway across the park.

She suggests not running after them – if that’s safe and age-appropriate – instead of waiting for them to return and then keeping things calm with her ‘gentle consequences’.

In Chris’s book patience, love and these ‘gentle consequences’ are brilliant first steps to teaching little ones to listen and learn. 


Do you have a question for Mothercraft nurse, Chris Minogue? Join Kinderling Conversation host and mum-of-two Shevonne Hunt for friendly advice, interviews and insightful tips every Monday at 12pm.


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