Escape Artists: Keeping Curious Kids Safe

Article at-a-glance

  • Giving toddlers the independence they want when they start walking can be difficult as they tend to run off.
  • Laying out guidelines and expectations can help you and your child navigate situations while still providing some freedom to explore.
  • Being aware of everyday household dangers and areas that are hazards for your child can help avoid disaster. 

Is your child a quick escape artist? Once a toddler masters walking (or should we say running?), getting him to stay close by is difficult. Here are a few tips to keep your little sprinter in tow.

Begin with step-by-step rules

Let’s face it, at this age you can’t expect your child to understand a lecture on safety and why wandering off is dangerous. But, you can teach her what you expect during an outing and help her navigate away from precarious situations. Start using step-by-step rules. For example say, “When I open your car door, I’ll help you out of the car. Then we’re going to hold hands and walk on the sidewalk into the store.” Of course, a toddler’s attention span is close to nil, so repetition helps—along with lots of praise for remembering.

In emergencies, give the correct commands

If you just yell STOP, your toddler may be confused as to which motion is not acceptable or if you’re even addressing them. Instead, call their name first. Then, you’ll be able to make eye contact and use visual cues (like waiving both hands) to help the next words be understood.  

Making staying with you more fun.

Children get bored when attached to mom or dad for too long. Their reaction is to run. Make an effort to spend less time standing still or walking in straight lines. Walk on the curb, jump over the cracks, skip, and find other ways to make it more fun to stay with you.  Young children can also be diverted by interactive songs, color scavenger hunts, and silly questions.

Use a stroller strategically

There may be times it’s safer to use a stroller versus letting your child walk. Portable toys and snacks can help keep your toddler amused and distracted from trying to escape. But the key is to not overdo it. When you reach a safer place, remember to let your child loose to explore.

Car seat safety

Kids can master car seat buckles before they’re mature enough to understand the potential consequences. There are many strategies and even products on the market to help stop this, but the simplest to stop your car every time your child unbuckles. Often, the reason for escaping is simple boredom, so make sure your interaction as you re-buckle her isn’t more entertaining than riding in the car. Talk about how the ride may be boring, but it gets much longer when you have to keep stopping to fix their buckles. As they are able to stay seated, praise and reward their efforts.

If reasoning and rewards aren’t cutting it, look into buckle guards, car seat keys and other safety products.

For some parents, the best impression is made by asking a police or firefighter to have a word with their family about the importance of seat belt safety.

The Great Escape and Supervision

Escape artists aren’t always running toward traffic. Sometimes they’re just sneaking under your radar and running into everyday household dangers.

The best way to childproof your home is to get down on your hands and knees (at toddler level) and scout the rooms. Look for possible hazards, note what is in your child’s reach, and search for small choking hazards. As you crawl through each room, think about which areas require more supervision and which might require moving things entirely. Here are five big concerns:

Your child’s bed

By the age of 8-10 months, your baby can pull himself up to stand and may try to escape from the crib and fall. Move the mattress to the lowest level in the crib.

Already have a crib climber? You may want to place pillows along the floor outside the crib for extra cushioned protection when they eventually scale the crib.

Burn hazards

The kitchen stove is an interesting piece of real estate to a curiosity seeker. Ovens and stovetops can cause burns or scalding, but toddlers look up to see and grasp interesting handles. Make sure all pot handles are turned in and away from tiny fingers. Keep small appliances away from edges and consider removing your oven’s front-facing dials.

Another burn hazard is the bathroom. Hot water from a sink or bathtub can scald delicate skin. Today, there are anti-scald devices that slow water to a trickle if it reaches a critical temperature of 120 degrees F.

Water hazards

Little escape artists look for open doors or may even master the door lock. Outside the confines of the childproofed house there may be a swimming pool, lake, fishpond, kiddie pool, or even a bucket of water. Note: toddlers can drown even in a small amount of standing water.

Drowning is a threat to children everywhere – it’s the number one cause of accidental death in kids ages 1-4 according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. High door latches and safety alarms are a must in a home with access to standing water.

Cars and Driveways

Your toddler doesn’t even have to leave home to be injured by a motor vehicle. Your own driveway has two serious hazards: backing up without seeing a child, and parked cars.

Don’t underestimate little explorers who enter an unlocked car. Keep parked vehicles locked to prevent children becoming trapped in a hot car or somehow putting a car in gear.

Outdoor obstacles

Many plants, shrubs, and trees, such as oleanders and mistletoe, are poisonous if ingested, or can cause rashes if touched.

Try to identify the plants you have. If you can’t remove a dangerous plant or landscaping feature, try to restrict access to it with fencing and supervision.

These are just a few of the many dangers a creative toddler can encounter. Talk with your pediatrician about childproofing and supervision help.



Reviewed on September 4, 2019 by: Ryan Gottfredson, D.O., MPH
Ryan Gottfredson, D.O., MPH
Board-certified Pediatrician

Dr. Gottfredson is passionate about preventive medicine and pediatrics. After thirteen years away serving in the Air Force, he’s excited to be returning to Utah. Languages: English and Spanish.

Timpanogos Physicians Office
Full Bio

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