Reader asks: My 3.5 year old keeps running away! (in the grocery store that is.)

By Angelica Shiels Psy.D.

So I had a fan, who I completely “don’t know” (wink, wink) write me:  My 3.5 year old keeps running away when I take her out – she’s not being defiant but does not understand that she needs to stay where I can see her or somewhat close by especially when I’m by myself with her younger sis – she does this with others too.  Please help!

Now, this morning, my kids wanted to be glitter gluing headless skeletons onto construction paper (awe, adorable, huh?)….



….sooooo I decided not to sit on the computer and write a response.  Instead, I offer you this handy dandy flow chart (which applies to any kid of any age with any behavior).


For your particular circumstance, I believe a 3.5 year old is capable of understanding an expectation that is modified (instead of the general request “stay by mommy,” it’s, “Your special big girl job is to keep holding onto the cart/stroller the whole time that we are in the store; Which side do you want to hold onto?  Do you want to put a sticker on that part of the stroller so you know where to touch it? (see the brainwashing section.)”

At 3.5, she is developmentally able to understand cause and effect (behavior and consequence) and display impulse control when it is reasonably cued.  Basically, I would suggest something like this, “Hold onto the cart, and if you forget to hold onto the cart, I will remind you.  And if you ignore me when I remind you, I will lock you in the dungeon   make you ride in the cart or take away your barbies or something….” Of course, she may not truly follow all that verbage, but the consequences will speak for themselves.  (Don’t forget the empathy part, as every time I wrote an example of a consequence on my handy dandy flow chart, I included the phrase, “how sad’ (insert convincing puppy-dog eyes of sorrow, NOT a yelly meany mom voice.)


Best of luck!

Don’t forget to like my new Facebook page, where you can message me and ask me anything. If you’re lucky, you too could get a marker flow chart or a creepy child craft…


1 thought on “Reader asks: My 3.5 year old keeps running away! (in the grocery store that is.)

  1. Pingback: DBT and “Mindfulness” (so you don’t chuck any remotes into any TV screens.) | ON THE YELLOW COUCH

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s