Q: My son is an energetic and lively 6 year old who literally hits the ground running each morning. I have some physical limitations that make it impossible for me to chase him. He does not have many friends, and because he has some behavioural problems, he is not welcome in clubs or organized sports.
He loves running away from me, no matter where we are going or what we are doing. I do not enjoy embarrassing him , but I have a backpack with a strap which attaches onto me that I have threatened to put on him if he keeps running away from me, because I am worried that he will get run over by a car or collide with strangers in the street, which is something I would have to live with for the rest of my life! He has no sense of danger or fear for the consequences of his actions, and at times he tends to blatantly ignore my verbal commands.
Can you come up with any hints, tips or advice for me as I am a single parent and I do not know where to turn.
A: Some kids simply like to run more than others. That may not be a problem if a parent also likes to run - they can run together. But if you don't like to or can't, your child's running can be very stressful to cope with.
As always, I offer my advice as only one person's opinion, and trust that you will take what works for you and discard the rest. No one knows your child and your situation better than you do.
If it was me, I'd use the backpack with the strap. I'd preface it with a conversation like this:
Honey, I know you love to run. I want you to be able to run just as much as you'd like, and I will take you to the high school track every day so you can run like the wind in a safe place. If you want, I can even bring a stopwatch so you can see how fast you are!
And when we are out on the street, or in the yard, or with other people, it's my job to keep us all safe. Running in places like that is not safe - you could run into traffic, run into someone and hurt them, or get hurt yourself. So when we are somewhere that it would not be safe for you to run, I will be putting the backpack on you for now to help you remember to keep close to me.
I know you don't like wearing it, so as soon as you are used to walking close to me, we can try little by little to go without the backpack. First we can try in the yard, and when can stay close to me with no reminders, then we can try at the park, and on like that until we can just leave that backpack at home in the closet and walk safely together.
Be prepared for a vigorous protest. Just listen, and let him know you understand how angry he is. Then, the next time you go out, allow some extra time for his protest to renew itself as you are bringing out the backpack. Listen again, but hold firm that we don't go out without it.
If you truly think he will master staying close quickly, tell him that today might be the only day he'll need it, and that if he never tugs on the strap, you'll know he's ready to try going without it tomorrow.
This is not about threatening or punishing him. It's about ensuring his safety until he has matured enough to do that for himself consistently. There are other ways to do this, of course. One would be that he can't come into public places with you for a while - but that would be pretty hard for a single mom to pull off.
The bottom line is that he needs to show you that he can manage the freedom of being loose in the world. If he can't stay close for safety's sake, then he's not yet ready to walk freely. But please do make sure he's getting plenty of time to run free in a safe place, like a fenced-in track or park. If you can't provide that due to your physical limitations, see if you can find a neighbor, relative, or friend who will take him somewhere to run every day. It's not reasonable to expect him to suppress his energy for extended periods of time. Ideally, you want him already tired before you take him out on errands, so save the trips to the store for after his track run.
If you notice energy building, and you can't get him out to run, try asking him to carry something heavy for you, push something heavy around (like the couch, so you can vacuum under it), or lift something, like moving that big rock in the yard two inches to the left. The idea is to have him exert some effort against resistance.
So if he's getting squirrelly on the way home from the store, you might say, Oh no! This bag of groceries is just TOO heavy for me to carry one more step. What am I going to do? Your little hero will probably step in to carry it for you. It's hard to run with a full bag of groceries! Don't worry if it's really heavy. The bigger the challenge, the more energy he will use, and the prouder he will feel.
I hope this helps!
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