Child Runs Away in Public | What to do Step by Step

What to do When Your Child Runs Away in Public

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Child on gravel path with back to camera
Has your kid ever disappeared? Like, runs away in public. You’re out running errands, and you turn around, and they’re just… gone. Almost as if they vanished into thin air. It makes my heart drop to my stomach, and my adrenaline starts pumping thinking about it. All kids do this, but if your kid is a runner, it becomes a common occurrence. After lots of trial and error, I’ve figured out exactly what to do when your child runs away in public or disappears while you’re out and about.
 
I know firsthand how gut-wrenching it is when your child runs away in public. Immediately your brain goes into panic mode, your palms get sweaty, and you’re frantic. You start running in circles, up and down the aisle screaming your child’s name. And they don’t come. A child running away in public is frightening. 

I’ve Been There 

I know, because I’ve been there. More often than I’d like to admit. My first child is a runner (or eloper if you want to use the fancy term). She’s autistic and part of her coping mechanism is to run when she gets overwhelmed.

 

Want to know more about her journey to an autism diagnosis? I’ve written about that in I’m Sorry. Your Daughter has Autism.

 

It doesn’t matter where we are if she gets frightened or overwhelmed she runs. My child has run into the street, through parking lots, through stores, the doctor’s office, you name it, and I’ve done the 100m dash chasing her.
 
Kids are so fast too. I could start training with an Olympic sprinter, and still not be as fast as my child. Even if I could become as quick as she is, if I run after her, it makes it worse. Somehow she goes into super speed mode, almost like she’s part Sonic the Hedgehog. Ask me how I learned about super speed mode.
 
Image of track with lanes and lane numbers

Want to know? Ok, I’ll tell you. 

We had moved to Pennsylvania, and my kiddo needed to go to the pediatrician to get established as a new patient and all that fun stuff. So we went to a new place, saw new people, and it was too much. The pediatrician left the door open to our exam room while she was talking to me and in those 10 seconds, my kid was gone. Flew out the door, opened the door to the back ‘private’ hallway of the building and took off.
 
I went after her. Nurses, doctors, everyone was staring at me as I ran after my child. No one helped. No one said ‘Hey kid, stop’ or tried to block her path. They let her run. Eventually, I found her under a desk in a back office. I still remember the face of the doctor as I was on the floor begging her to come out. I wasn’t embarrassed. Instead, I was relieved. I found her, she was safe, no one had snagged her, and though she was processing some big emotions, she was relatively unscathed. Others aren’t so lucky.
 
I could give you hundreds of other scenarios where my child runs away in public or has hidden in clothing racks at the store, but I’ll spare you. Know it’s happened to me too often. Enough that I’ve learned that battle preparation is a parenting styleThrough this experience, I’ve learned exactly what to say and do to get others to help me rather than looking at me like I’m the worst mother on the face of the planet.
 
After lots of trial and error, I've figured out exactly what to do when your child runs away in public or disappears while you're out and about.

What to do When Your Child Runs Away in Public

Start Shouting the Description of Who You’re Looking For

This is the best way to get others to help you. If you’re yelling your child’s name and running frantically, Susie Shopper has no idea who you’re looking for. If you say, “My child ran from me. I’m looking for a little girl with blonde hair wearing a pink shirt. Have you seen her?” Everyone knows who you’re looking for and will chime in with ‘over here’ or ‘she went that way.’
 

Remain Calm

Ok, easier said than done, I know. But if you get frantic two things will happen: 1) your child will think it’s a game and 2) People will not understand what you’re saying. You must remain as calm, and level-headed as possible so that the people around you can help you. It also wastes time if a bystander has to stop you and say ‘Ma’am calm down, I can’t understand. What happened?’. You don’t want to waste any time. You want to find your child as quickly as possible
 

And that’s it! Only two things to remember if your child runs away in public. 

I hope none of you ever need to use this information, but if you do, remember to remain calm and shout the description of your child.
 
I urge every single parent to start doing this immediately after your child runs away in public. The worst that could happen is that your child is right behind you and you get a little embarrassed because they didn’t run. It’s worth the embarrassment.
 
In the instance where you shout, and your child ends up right next to you, use it as a teaching moment. Explain why you were yelling. Children understand far more than we give them credit. Tell them ‘mommy was scared that she had lost you. It made me sad that you were missing.’ They’ll get it. 
 

Again, I hope you never need to use this information, but if you do, I hope it helps.

 
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    2 thoughts on “What to do When Your Child Runs Away in Public”

    1. Those are such good tips! I like the intentional wording of “my child ran away from me” instead of saying “my child is missing” or worse “I lost my kid.” In that moment it quells the instinct some people have to judge your parenting skills, and then the description of the child gets them trying to help. I can tell you’ve done this a few times. While I’m sorry for that, I appreciate you sharing your expertise!!

      1. Thank you! Yes, we’ve definitely had lots of trial and error. I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned, I can help someone be more prepared if it happens to them.

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