Young girl running down sidewalkPhoto by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Running and Bolting

Having a child that runs or bolts can be terrifying for a parent. When a child takes off it can be nerve-racking to think of the outcomes of their ‘bolting’ and ‘running’ behavior. Are they going to run into the street? Will they run out of the building? Are they going to take off with a stranger? The child may be ‘bolting’ for multiple reasons, she may want attention, she may want to avoid an activity, or she may seek a more stimulating environment. As parents, teachers, and caregivers, we must understand how to appropriately react to a child that runs. The best strategy is to avoid situations that permit the child to runoff, however, if this is not possible, we must minimize the amount of attention the child receives. If we give a child attention for undesirable behaviors, like running off, we are encouraging and rewarding the behavior. This means the child is likely to continue their habit of running off.

Prevent the Situation

The best way to stop running and bolting is to prevent the situation. Do whatever you can to keep the child in the classroom, house, car, etc. Once the child steps out of the safe space the chances of her bolting and running off will increase. When she runs off, it is likely that your instincts will be to chase after her. However, chasing after the child will only reinforce the behavior and increase the chances of her running off again. Although at times, it will be impossible to not chase after a child, especially if her safety is at risk. If she does end up bolting, try not to give her a lot of attention. Once you are able to reach her, calmly walk her back to the room. Also, avoid talking or lecturing her, as this will give her the desired attention, and avoid eye contact. Have the child return to the activity that she was working on before bolting.
If you are in a school environment, be familiar with all the building exits and have a plan with fellow staff members and security guards to prepare for a bolting situation. Again, hopefully, the bolting situation will be avoided, but if it occurs you are much better off to prepare to appropriately handle it.
For more resources on how to help handle different situations with your child, view our resources.