>Dear Dr. Hackney,
I am writing to ask if your classes cover how to teach toddlers, more specifically – the parents, the important “rules?” Our 2 ½ year-old son decided to leave the house alone to find me after I left to walk the dog. Someone was definitely looking over us tonight as a policeman found him. I know that how we handled the situation did not sync-in, and he doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation. We have worked on how to ensure he cannot go out of the house without someone, but how do we teach the “life” lessons that are so important?
Please let me know if there is a specific class that helps to address this or if you can help us with private counseling.
Mother of 2 ½ year-old son
I wish I had a better answer for you, but no matter how you handle a situation like this, a 2 1/2 year-old may not realize the gravity of it. They have little to no appreciation for the “what ifs” in life and only a slight sense of past and future happenings.
With that said, it can be helpful to keep your emotional response of fear and worry in these moments. If you shift to anger (which many folks do), you may lose impact as they see you angry far more often than they see you afraid or worried.
You might also try to replay the positive behaviors; this means saying, “You ask before you open the doors” and then practicing him asking to open the exterior doors. Do this repeatedly, and remind him every time he goes to open a door to the outside. When he does finally remember to ask, reinforce by saying, “You asked, that is the safe thing to do!” This isn’t insurance that it will work every time, nothing is, but it may go a long way toward lessening the behavior.
Work hard to ensure he can’t get out again; think high placed locks.
Rene Hackney, PhD.