My 3-year-old has become an escape artist. He wakes early in the morning before anyone is up and tries to get out of the house. During the day, every chance he gets, he sneaks out the back door or out his window, which we no longer leave open, and takes off down the road. He always heads toward the park and says he is going for a walk. I cannot express the fear you feel when all of the sudden you cannot find your child. Why does he do this, and what can we say in order to get through to him that this is not okay?
That must be the most terrifying nightmare a parent can experience. Why does he do it? Not, as you may think, to drive you crazy but because he is experimenting with independence and the ability to accomplish things on his own without you. He is, of course, completely unaware of the danger into which he puts himself. First, you must do everything in your power to keep him from being able to leave the house. Do not lock him in but use solutions like Dutch doors and door chains so they can be open for ventilation and communication without allowing him to leave. Make sure that you do not, for example, put bars on the windows that can trap him and others inside in case of fire. Warn all your neighbors just in case he gets out to stop him if they see him and call you at once. Use his push for independence to give him a sense of accomplishment in other areas. Praise him for solving a problem or being kind to someone without prompting. Let him help make dinner or choose a cereal in the market or anything else that will give him a sense of independence. At the same time, reward him for not leaving the house. Let him know that your attention and praise come from not going to the park without you.