Child Runs and Explores While Shopping

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

I have just found your website and am going to go buy one of the positive discipline books tomorrow. My daughter is almost 17months old and is a very good little girl. Our challenge is when we are out and about, shopping or farmers market for example. She wants to run and explore (of course), she runs away and we end up having to chase her, even when we tell her no or stop. I know she is at an exploration stage but I don't know when to discipline versus letting her run around. I guess I just don't know when true discipline should be implemented?

Thank you, Carla


Hi Carla, 

Does it help to know that just about every parent experiences what you are experiencing—and that it is very normal. Before giving some suggestions, I would like to address you last statement about when true discipline should be implemented. This leads me to believe that you may have a different idea about discipline that what we teach through Positive Discipline. When you see the following criteria for effective discipline, you'll see that it is appropriate all the time.

Four Criteria for Effective Discipline

1. Does it help children feel a sense of connection? (Belonging and Significance)
2. Is it respectful and encouraging? (Kind and firm at the same time)
3. Is it effective long-term? (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.) 
4. Does it teach valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, cooperation)
5. Does it help children discover and believe that they are capable?

You'll notice that punishment is never part of the Positive Discipline model.

So, even though your daughter's behavior is very normal, she still needs discipline to keep her safe and to teach her skills. At this age action speaks much louder than words. And, at this age, the three primary tools you need to use are: supervision, supervision, supervision.

So, watch closely (which I'm sure you are already doing.)
Let her know in advance (but don't expect her to understand—the advance informing is more for you than her at this age) that when she runs away at a store, you will take her to the car and sit with her until she is ready to try again. Be sure you do not make this punitive by shaming or lecturing. It is best not to use any words except, "We'll try again pretty soon." Then sit and read a good book. You might even read to her. (This is not rewarding the behavior.) In a few minutes say, "Let's try again to see if you can keep hold of my hand while we are in the store."

You may have to repeat this process many times before she knows that when you say it you mean it and when you mean it you will follow-through. It is essential that you remain kind and firm at the same time. When you realize that it is her job to run and explore, and it is your job to keep her safe and teach her skills; it will be easier to remain kind and firm.

When you catch the spirit of this process, you will see how it can be used in many situations. When she is older and "misbehaves" in a restaurant, say, "Let's go sit in the car until you are ready to help us all enjoy our dinner." Of course you will have role played what helping everyone enjoy an activity looks like.
Have you tried something comforting that she can carry - a stuffed animal or whatever - and putting her in one of the small-sized strollers until she is a bit older. Maybe she is over-stimulated by the smells, sounds, and sights and needs a shorter visit.

You will find hundreds of ideas for effective (non-punitive) discipline in Positive Discipline the First Three Years and Positive Discipline A-Z.

Enjoy. I know you have heard it a million times: every age and stage passes so quickly.


Online Learning

Positive Discipline offers online learning options for parents, teachers, and parent educators. Learn in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. You have unlimited access to our online streaming programs, so you can watch and re-watch the videos as often as you like.