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When Your Child Runs in the Street

admin February 6, 2015

As many here know, I’m a pretty strong advocate of gentle discipline — that is, no spanking.

When I discuss this with other parents, this is what I hear most often: “I try not to spank.  I use it as a last resort.  But sometimes, I think kids just need to be spanked, if what they’re doing is that dangerous.  Like if they run into the street — that could kill them.  I’d rather spank them than have them die.

I totally get it.  Really, I do.  Parents are trying to do what is best for their children.  Nobody wants their child in harm’s way.  Nobody wants to see their child get seriously hurt because they didn’t listen.  That’s a very serious problem!

When I first decided not to spank, I struggled with this a lot too.  There were tough circumstances — like this one — where I just couldn’t fathom not spanking.  It was too serious, and I could not think of another way.  I mean, if push really came to shove…I had to do something to keep my kid safe and impress upon him/her how serious running away in a parking lot really was.

And believe me…this was very personal to me.  My now 5-year-old is a very sweet boy who generally listens.  But, when he was 2 or 3, he was easily overwhelmed by large crowds and lots of noise and he was a runner.  He would bolt away from me at random, just take off.  This did occur a few times in parking lots and we were about to have heart attacks!  I’m so thankful that he has outgrown that, and that none of my others have been like that!

I understand your fear.  But I want to help change the way you think about this…

When Your Child Runs in the Street

Here’s the thing.  And this applies really not only to this situation but to many really tough situations we face with young children.  When we believe that spankings are necessary if they do the bad thing, then we are failing to think ahead.  We are failing to prevent the bad thing in the first place.

Little kids don’t think about these things.  They don’t think about how dangerous they might be.  Don’t think that they will “get to you” by disobeying and doing these bad things.  They are not trying to go against your wishes.  They are curious about something else that they are chasing, or they get bored and start wandering, or they are overwhelmed by too much activity and run.  It’s not a behavior issue, in the sense that they aren’t trying to defy your wishes.

Yes, right, but…the natural consequences here are too high.

We need to take a step back again.  The natural consequence of running in the street is *not* “getting hit by a car.”  No loving, sane parent would ever allow this to happen to their child, not in the name of “discipline” or for any other reason.  Which is why that’s not actually the natural consequence — it’s simply too dangerous.

The real natural consequence is preventing the dangerous situation in the first place.

My older children are allowed to get out of the car in a parking lot and then stay close to the car while they wait for me to get the younger ones.  The young ones, who may not be safe, are not permitted to get down alone.  That is the natural consequence.  Sometimes they would like to get out of my arms to walk or be with their older siblings.  But this is not allowed.

If a child cannot be safe in a street — either because they have bolted once, or because you suspect they could — here are the natural consequences to take:

  • Hold the child in your arms or by the hand firmly 100% of the time you are near the street (even if they protest)
  • Place the child into a car seat, cart, or stroller and strap them in immediately
  • Use a “leash” to keep the child attached to you (less ideal than the first two options, but possible solution for some)
  • Do not allow play time near a street (ex. in the front yard) or end play time immediately if they go near the street

Basically, do not allow your child any freedom when they are in a potentially dangerous situation.  They earn freedom by learning to be safe in that situation.  My 3- and 5-year-olds can stand outside of a car and wait for me while I get my 22-month-old out (who is not allowed to get down, because he can’t be safe).  My 7-year-old is allowed to cross non-busy streets with supervision (but without me walking her across).  Freedom is a privilege that comes with responsibility…and lack of freedom is the consequence that comes from immaturity.  I guarantee children who are not special needs will not still be bolting into the street by age 6 or 7.

We just need to look at our idea of “natural consequences” differently!

When Your Child Runs in the Street

Protecting Our Children

When it comes to small ones, we need to remember that they don’t act foolishly because they want to disobey us.  They are not trying to be “bad.”  They do wrong because they don’t know any better yet, their brains and impulse control are still immature.

We can’t force them to grow up or learn any faster by spanking them, or otherwise punishing them.  That doesn’t teach them new information.  Instead, we have to limit their freedom and prevent them from doing something that is dangerous or bad in the first place.  The consequence is their limited freedom.

For example, my oldest, at 7, is allowed to go into our fridge most any time she wants and find a snack — within reason.  My 1-year-old is not allowed in the fridge at all, because he would remove items he shouldn’t have and make a mess.  Sometimes he would really like to go in the fridge and find something.  But he isn’t allowed to.  Sometimes this means we have to put a lock on the fridge, or remove him from the kitchen, much to his dismay!

What happens if the boundaries are violated?

Sometimes, when my older kids are in the kitchen, my 1-year-old does go into the fridge, because he saw them doing it and it isn’t locked.  Should he be punished then, for disobedience?  No.  He wasn’t trying to break the rules; he doesn’t even understand what the rules are!  He only knew he was hungry and wanted to get a snack.  He’ll get offered a healthy snack (if it’s not just about meal time) and then removed from the kitchen.  We meet his need — hunger — but not his want (raiding the fridge).

And yes.  They will learn even without punishment.  By age 3 or so, “Don’t go in the fridge” is enough to stop them.  My older children listen when I say “Stop at the street.”  They do not bolt into it.  They have learned, naturally, that cars can come and could hurt them, and that they need to stop and wait for those cars in order to be safe.  I did not need to spank them to teach them that lesson — time and natural maturity (plus discussions about street safety) did that.

Basically, we need to prevent our children from getting into unsafe situations, and if they do anyway, then we remove them immediately.  They will protest not being allowed, or being removed; it’s okay if they cry.  Our need to keep them safe trumps their desire to do whatever it is.  We don’t need to  add to that with punishment.

How do you feel about this?  Do you spank for “serious” offenses?

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8 Comments

  1. What a beautiful explanation of your beliefs on spanking! I share your view on never spanking and have always found alternative ways to teach my child life lessons without physical punishment. My child is a teenager now and is very well minded and (I think) is more mindful of their actions than children that are spanked. I can only say this because spanking was my parent’s main disciplinary/intervention action and (even as a child) I never thought spanking taught me a single thing. I truly had no idea what my limitations or expectations were as a child and I am happy my child does! Thank you for your easy to understand and thoughtful explanation!

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  2. I think a lot depends on the individual child. Our daughter was always an easy child that usually followed instructions. There were two occasions that I did actually swat her bottom. The first time she was 2. We lived on a corner lot in a quiet residential area. She was outside with my husband and I raking leaves and playing in them. She had walked over to the curb and stepped down into the street. I told her no she wasn’t allowed to step in the street, that it wasn’t safe, and set her back on the lawn. A minute or two later she did it again. Again, I put her on the lawn and repeated the message. A few minutes later she again went to the curb, looked at me and slowly put her foot down onto the street. I immediately swatted her bottom, scooped her up, repeated the message and brought her into the house and put her in a time out. She was still in diapers so there was a lot of padding. It was really the shock of it that got her attention. After the time out I reinforced the message of not stepping into the street. She never attempted it again. It was a time of testing parental authority. I felt she needed to get the message clearly. I couldn’t worry about her running out in the street if she was out of my eyesight for a few seconds or not within a short enough distance to be able to grab her. The second time was about a year later and again it was a testing of parental authority. Again it was just one well timed swat on the bottom. I don’t advocate a spanking as a form of punishment after the fact but the well timed swat reinforced a message that was being challenged.

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  3. I do spank. For defiance, mostly. In the example of the street, I would not spank my kids if they ran into the street. I approach those topics as you do: with training, reasoning, teaching. My thing isn’t spanking them if they are doing something dangerous. My concern is teaching them to obey and that obedience is in their best interest SO THAT WHEN they are foolish that ONE TIME, I can yell, “STOP!” and they don’t run into the street at all. I go about solving the street problem in a two-fold way, then: training about street safety, and teaching obedience and reinforcing it with spankings when they have defiantly disobeyed.
    Every.single.one. of my (now older) kids ran into the street at least once. When there was a car coming. When they were holding my hand. When a car came so fast unseen. The natural outcome of these situations depended on them having prior training AND spankings. At the time of each of those incidents, none of the kids were at an age where they would be allowed freedom to cross alone. But each was an unusual circumstance, and each of them almost were demolished by an oncoming vehicle. (I might add that they were all in neighborhoods, not a “real” street!) Having limited freedoms like hand holding, etc, were NOT ENOUGH in those situations. They are alive still by the grace of God that enabled them to STOP when I yelled “STOP!” They would not have had the ability to obey immediately if they had not been repeatedly disciplined when they did not obey. With loving, intentional, purposeful discipline, we have trained them to listen and obey. Do they obey every single time? Of course not. They are STILL learning. But at the time, they didn’t have the ability to understand street rules, they forgot their training, and they didn’t have the foresight to be safe. What saved them was the work done prior, not in training, but in discipline.

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  4. Great alternatives, thank you!

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  5. Ok so I’m here reading this because I just googled appropriate consequences for a 4 yr old running in the parking lot. I did this because it literally just took place and as far as what I read above I dig it and it totally sounds like my philosophy exactly on these kind of issues up until about a month ago. Here’s the thing, when we walked out the store doors he was riding on the side of the cart (it was a taxi cab one with a design that I didn’t feel was TOO dangerous for him to be in the position he was and I told him if he gets hurt that’s the consequence of taking a risk and riding that way and I moved much slower than usual) when we got to my car he hopped off and began to walk around my vehicle, I reminded him to stay next to me and he kept walking so I told him to stop, he sped up as I moved to keep him within both sight and reach, I said STOP! He starts to jog I say remember DO NOT RUN IN THE PARKING LOT and he full on sprints around my vehicle attempting to evade me, smiling and a little giggly. I grabbed him firmly and got down on my knees in front of him and said “Look at my eyes, why did you do that?” No response “what are you not supposed to do in parking lots?” SMILING at me he says run, I ask what he just did and again he says run and he then straight up laughs about it. Now I am about to lose it on the child he just had a time out for a similar pushing my buttons event inside the store and I’ve been letting him help and giving him plenty of appropriate options during our shop, most of the groceries he picked out and I told him I’m line “Wow we make a great team! That’s probably by far the healthiest batch of groceries I’ve ever bought!” And it definitely was he made awesome choices, far better than most adults I witness or know. I gave several other specific heartfelt praises to connect and show my pride and gratitude for the better than good behavior… he doesn’t start to run until I say do not, which I’m doing cause he inched along to a point where he was basically already doing it. Now I know I really need to work on rephrasing things so instead of telling him what I don’t want to see I’m saying what I DO want to see, but when you say they aren’t trying to upset us, or trying to be naughty, it’s all innocence, I no longer agree. He’s apparently reached the age where he has decided to test limits and break rules and at times attempt to manipulate me (even worse at times successfully does lol) sooo this is a real huge struggle for me right now and it’s really hard not to take personally lmao but even more difficult to respond to in an effective and healthy manner. Just throwing that out, any advice on that is MORE than welcome. Whew it felt good to let that out and he fell asleep so maybe he just needed a nap but that’s definitely not always the case. I often go through Hungry Angry Lonely Tired and eliminate those when he’s super naughty. If One or more need addressed I address them then and a fair amount of the time, that’s enough to get things worked out and move on with our normal lives. I have done a lot of humbling, trying different things out, being open to suggestion, classes and workshops and research and I try very hard to take it all into consideration and give him what he really needs, but I’m beginning to think he’s either a little spoiled, in a real crappy stage where he’s just kind of mean cause he’s experimenting and HOpEFULLY learning something positive lmao pushing me cause he needs more solidity or rigidity or perhaps more severe or frightening consequences in his life… or maybe he’s just gunna act like a rude little argumentative stubborn boy part time who at his age can’t help but also be self-centered lol til he decides in doesn’t serve him well. Which could be never for all I know. Idk I’m at a complete loss most of the time and it’s reallt getting to me the longer I go without gaining understanding OR an effective solution. Point was sometimes, they are doing it to get a reaction or test a consequence or simply see how much they can affect you. Pretty sure.

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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