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RunnerMy son, who has been unofficially diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and officially diagnosed with ADHD, is a runner.  At times, he finds it a challenge to control his impulses. This difficulty, coupled with his seeming inability to consistently understand what “danger” is, has put us in some precarious situations. Thus, we are always seeking and testing out strategies to curb “the runner” in our child.

Strategies to Curb the Parking Lot Runner

Four strategies that have helped us keep safe in parking lots have been:

Touch the Car Door

Not long after my daughter was born, my son developed a habit of walking away from me as I tried to get his little sister in and out of the car. So, we began a game called, “Touch the Car Door”.

Basically, I say “Touch the car door,” and the kids have to do so as quickly as they can, continuing to do so until I have gotten everyone settled in the car, carriage or shopping cart.

For my son, this playful approach seems to work better than commanding, “Stay next to Mommy,” or, “Stop. Don’t walk away.”

Limit the Runner: First In – Last Out

Unquestionably, my daughter is better at “Touch the Car Door” than my son, who is easily distracted and sometimes succumbs to an impulse to run. So, for safety alone, I have made it a habit to buckle him into the car first when we are going anywhere and to unbuckle him last.

As he has aged, he has recognized that even though he is the oldest, he is the first in and the last out of the car. When he asked, “Why?”, I was honest with him.  Ever since, he has been seeking opportunities to “prove” that he will stay near me.

Distract the Runner: Please Help Me – Show Me Your Strength

Another strategy I use to ease our son’s impulse to run away when we are getting into or out of the car is to suggest “challenges”.

I ask him to do a job for me or to show me “how strong” he is.  Prompts such as:

“Who can carry this heavy diaper bag?”

“Are you strong enough to help me push this cart?”

“Gosh, I am having trouble carrying all this. I need someone strong to help.”

These simple requests offer my son something concrete to do. The “heavy work”, combined with a direct focus, can work wonders.

Calm the Runner: Eliminate Known Stressors

When my son was a toddler, we noticed that he was sensitive to the sound and feeling of shopping cart wheels on rough pavement.  If he was riding in a shopping cart, as soon as we hit the parking lot, terror struck him.

It took me a while to make the connection that he was more apt to “run” when I was about to put him in a cart’s seat or had just taken him out of one.

Once I made that connection, I began to wait to put him in a cart until we hit the smooth flooring of a store.  I would wait to take him out of the cart until we got back out to the sidewalk after shopping.  These simple tweaks greatly decreased his penchant for running.

Games to Practice Impulse Control

Three games we frequently play to practice control of impulses are:


On rainy days, we play “Musical freeze”, where the kids dance until the music stops, and, then, freeze.

Outside, we play games where the kids freeze at the sound of a bell, a drum or the word, “freeze”.

Playing the game of freeze helps them practice going from high-energy dancing and running to absolute stillness.  So, when I call “freeze” during unsafe “running” incidents, it works – sometimes.

Red Light

We play the classic “Red Light-Green Light” game on the lawn to practice when it is okay to move and when we need to stop.

We also play the game on walks.  I allow the kids to take turns being in charge when in low-traffic areas.  Alternately, I allow them to be “It” in more crowded areas.

Sometimes, all it takes for my son to control the impulsive runner inside is a “red light”.  However, he definitely needs some “green light” times, too.

To make the game more visual, consider a red light – green light two sided decoration.

Mommy Says

Like the classic, “Simon Says”, we play a lot of “Mommy Says” in an effort to increase listening skills, obedience and self-control.

Sometimes, when the natural runner in my son starts to dash away from me in public situations, if I remember to say “Mommy Says” before telling him to stop or come back, it works.

Acquire Safety Tools

Two safety tool that I never thought I would need are:

Indoor Keyed Chain Locks

Despite many “rehearsals” of when, how and with whom to go out our front door, to cross a street or to take a walk, my son recently “escaped” our house and the little runner made his way down the street. After being corrected for doing so, he tried to do it again.

Thus, on went an indoor keyed chain lock on our front door as a “reminder” that children do not leave the house without a parent.  This lock system served as an extra measure of security, so I can change a sibling’s diaper in peace without worrying that my oldest is going to run away to danger.

The lock, of course, only went on after consulting with our local fire and police departments.  Such locks can be against code or considered a fire hazard.  We were given an “okay” on the locks due to our unique situation.

Window Locks

Once the front door was ruled out as a place of exit, my son “escaped” out his bedroom window and the little runner again, took off down the street.

Keyed window locks are now in place to prevent this dangerous behavior from happening again.  We also installed some window and door alarms.

Add Movement & Adventure to Each Day

A final piece of advice that is so simple, but also so easy to forget is to add movement and adventure to each and every day.

We are an active and outdoorsy family.  But, like many others, I sometimes get caught up in the adult world of task lists and forget to make ample time for my children to enjoy sustained movement inside and exploratory adventures outside.

When I do forget, my son’s behavior lets me know. The impulse to run increases. Then, I quickly get the message: “Mommy, I need more movement,” and begin building more into our days each day.

Explore resources for integrating movement into each day in our sensory diet segment of the Sensory Solution Center.

All of the ten strategies above have worked sometimes for my son. None of these work all the time.  However, some might help you curb “the runner” in your sensational child.

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Martianne is a homeschooling mom with over 20 years of experience in education, youth work and dramatic arts both in the United States and abroad. With certifications as a Middle School Generalist and English 8-12 teacher, plus a drawer full of certificates from a wide variety of professional development workshops and graduate courses, she brings a comprehensive “traditional” background to her present-day creative pursuits. Visit Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.