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Free spirited 6 year old who keeps running off without telling me where she's going

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  • Free spirited 6 year old who keeps running off without telling me where she's going

    I have a wonderful, free spirited 6 year old daughter who has an amazing and vivid imaginative world that she frequently loses herself in. But today something happened that has happened many times before - she got a brilliant idea in her head to explore the woods near a busy playground we were at, and while I was occupied with my younger daughter, ran out without telling me and disappeared entirely for over 15 minutes. This has happened in other settings many times, and lots of times she has realised she's lost and been terrified. It doesn't make a difference to her doing it again! She loses me in the supermarket if I don't insist she rides in the trolley, because she spots something beautiful or delicious and follows that moment of joy without a second thought to her whereabouts or proximity to me. I am so stuck as to how to respond to this. I am thinking of grounding her for a week, in hopes it will make a deep enough impression on her to help her remember to keep me in the loop when she gets a moment of inspiration that might take her away from me. But is that the right approach? Will punishing her in this way bring about the change I need in her to keep her safe (and me sane!) or will it just alienate her from me, make her resent me and make her more, rather than less likely to ignore me when she's out playing? What would be a really positive way to handle this?

    Feeling frantic....

  • #2
    what about walkie talkies? they clip on to the waist and that way, when she runs off, you can check in with her.


    • #3
      I'm sure I've seen pairs of watch type things that will sound an alarm when a child moves more than a set distance from the parent - perhaps it something like this could remind her that she needs to check with you where she is going?


      • #4
        Punishing might stop the problem, but it would do so by inducing an automatic fear response in her, where she is afraid of what you will do to her, if she follows her heart. Probably not what you want for your kids!

        I love the ideas of a device for tracking.

        I would imagine that she does not like being lost either. You said she feels scared when she realizes it. I would definitely sit down with her and spend some time explaining how you feel when she is gone and asking how she feels when she first leaves and again when she runs off. Maybe then you can better understand what is going on in her mind when she goes and talk about options with her for when she gets so excited and wants to run off (like maybe asking you to go with her!). There may be other solutions that are better, but the only way to really find out what will help, in my opinion, is to talk with your daughter to try to understand her better.

        Hope you find a solution soon! It does sound nerve-wracking.


        • #5
          I like how you honor her imagination, and realize that this is a part of that and not something she's doing deliberately.

          I agree w/ the other posters, I'm not sure punishment would help. It seems like this is a behavior that is really unconscious for her, and just as upsetting for her as for you. It's not like she's going to stop and say, "oops, can't do that because the last time I got grounded and I don't want that to happen." It sounds like she doesn't realize she's wandered away until she's separated from you. She's already being "punished" each time by her own fear and by your concern.

          What have your conversations with her been like? Have you talked about it after the moment, when everyone is calm and rational? Maybe she has some ideas that would help. How would you respond if this were a 2-year old and not a 6 year old? I wonder if part of the problem is expectations - by 6, maybe you expect that she can be supervised more casually. I know it's hard to keep up with the big kids when little ones also need you (and are probably wanting to stay at the play structure or in the grocery cart or whatever), but maybe she needs you close by to remind her when she's distracted. She just may need another year or two to mature enough to be able to remind herself to "check in" with reality when she's involved in her own world.

          I like the idea of a walkie talkie. You could check in with her every 10-15 minutes and "remind" her that she needs to be w/in your sight. No punishment and you'd still be free to care for the younger children.


          • #6
            Yeah, I would talk to her about it. It sounds scary, for both of you, so it can be presented as a mutual problem that needs some cooperative brainstorming to solve. Whatever solutions or tactics you come up with can be rehearsed before you go to the park or the store or whatever - before she gets distracted. I like the walkie talkies idea!

            I would also talk to her about basic safety stuff, just to make sure. Don't go off with strangers, find a mom or other woman to ask for help, etc. Hey, if she's going to get lost, might as well make sure she knows what to do about it, right?