I was asked this question last week.
Matthew is an escape artist. He doesn't take off running 100% of the time but the times he did were enough to make me think of ways to help him stay where he's supposed to or at the very least, slow him down.
When Matthew was just over 3 years old, I took him for an echocardiogram to check on the murmur (trivial amount of tricuspid regurgitation) as a baby. It was also required pre-op procedure for his tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, and bilateral myringotomy (ear tubes) back in October 2010. The waiting area was just off of a maze-like hospital hallway. Matthew decided to explore so I trailed him. He started out walking a few steps and then ran. I called out, "Matthew! Turn around and come back this way." He stopped for a second, looked at me over his shoulder, gave me the "catch-me-if-you-can" smile, and then took off running and laughing down the hallway and turning a corner or two.
Another time, we were at the pediatrician's office. The waiting area was not enclosed and it felt more like being in an open mall. Elizabeth was seated and buckled into the sit 'n stand stroller. Matthew was seated, facing me, on the little seat in the "stand" part of the stroller. There was no way to buckle him. I turned away from the stroller to hand Matthew's insurance card to the receptionist. Then I looked back at the stroller. Matthew was gone! I had only taken my eyes off of him for a few seconds. My heart skipped a few beats as I was frozen in place as I scanned the area. He was already more than 25 feet away from me, climbing on a chair in the waiting area of another doctor's office.
A much scarier instance of him taking off happened just a month ago. I was carrying Elizabeth, the diaper bag and had to push a heavy door open, so I had to let go of his hand momentarily. The door opened into a sidewalk but it didn't take much time for Matthew to dash into the street, which is usually busy. That took a few years off my life. Luckily, there weren't any cars at that time.
He also thinks it's hilarious to run on our driveway and head toward the street. I've learned to anticipate it and head him off before he builds any momentum. Otherwise, I just avoid being in that situation unless I had a good way to contain Elizabeth so she can be safe while I run after her big bro.
What I've Learned To Do
Redirect when possible. Last week, we were leaving one of his therapy sessions. On the way to the front door, there was a dance room lined with mirrors. The door was open. He decided that running full speed in the dance room while watching himself was more fun than going to the car to go home. I couldn't chase him down because I had the diaper bag on my back, Elizabeth with her baby doll in my one arm and a small lunch box in my other hand. Elizabeth was refusing to be set down and I did not have a stroller with me. After a few laps, I finally got a hold of him and quickly redirected him toward the door, telling him to wave and say "bye everyone" even when there was no one directly in sight. Having him do something else that he perceived as fun (ie saying "bye" and waving" helped stop the running. It (thankfully!) worked all the way to the front door and to the car.
When at the car, I tell him to touch our car or tap on it or knock on the door, especially if I'm carrying Elizabeth in my other arm. It keeps him preoccupied long enough for me to unlock the doors - I have to stick the key into the lock to unlock it. Then I have him climb in first. Once he's in, I walk around to the other side to put Elizabeth in her car seat and buckle her in. Then I walk back to Matthew's side to buckle him in.
Holding hands has been the most effective way to keep him near me, especially in the parking lot, stores, etc. It took a lot of practice for him and persistence on my part. Of course, it's harder when I have to carry Elizabeth with my other arm. Whenever possible, I find something that would contain either one or both kids. I have both of them in a shopping cart at a store. Or Elizabeth is in an umbrella stroller with Matthew helping me push so then, he is between me and the umbrella stroller or at least right next to me. He loves helping me with the umbrella stroller.
this one (photo from amazon.com). Maybe I will someday. Maybe I should get one just as a back-up tool.
Another thing I'm trying to teach Matthew is to ask permission to go somewhere and not just take off. It's a work in progress though and I don't feel like I've gotten through on the "how to ask permission" lesson with him yet. That might sink in when he's older.
More Ideas & Suggestions?
I'm sure many moms with kids who elope have their own tried and tested strategies. If you have ideas or suggestions, we would love to hear them. Please consider commenting. Thanks!