Here’s how to let a free-range toddler explore her mobility without losing your mind.
Photo by Pamela Hanson/Trunkarchive
It was my son Sam's third birthday and we were celebrating at Ontario Place. He was happily exploring the tunnels and slides of a toddler play area and I had my eye on him — or at least I thought I did, until he suddenly disappeared. I looked calmly for about a minute and a half, at which point some other parents picked up on my panic and started looking, too. At the five-minute mark, aware that the park was surrounded by water, I ran to security. They shut down the place and I watched in horror as a phalanx of people with walkie-talkies fanned out. “You stay right here!” one said to me. So I waited, and wept. After what felt like an eternity, a woman came toward me, with my very cheerful boy in her arms. He’d reached the other side of the park, and was halfway up a rope net when he was spotted. The rest of the day was coloured by tenderness — and a heightened sense of vigilance on my part.
Every parent has a harrowing story about the toddler who got away, and the frantic search that ensued. Toddlers have a propensity to run off in public spaces, and they have an uncanny ability to disappear seemingly in an instant. How can we teach tots to stay close by and keep them safe?
We asked parent educator Mary Ann Avey, who works for Childreach, a nonprofit early years agency in London, Ont., why toddlers take off in the first place. “This is the age of exploration,” she says. Toddlers are insatiably curious, but they don’t have the cognitive capacity yet to understand why it’s OK to rip around in the backyard but not at the water park.
They’re also keen to test their newfound independence; you’ll see this as your toddler streaks across the playground, then turns to see if you’re still there. How far a toddler goes is a matter of individual temperament, says Avey. “For some, their first reaction to something new is, ‘Let’s go check it out now.’ They’re the ones who barely look back.” These kids are more difficult to manage than a child who is more cautious by nature.
Read on for some of Avey's simple guidelines for parents to keep in mind. >>