I was pregnant with my third child and we had just walked out the door of a shop that faced a busy parking lot. My 2-year-old twin boys, who never seemed to have an off button, scattered the second we hit the fresh air. It’s almost as if they instinctively knew that big, pregnant mommy could not run after them.

In a fraction of a second I saw one of the twins run into the parking lot.

Just before he got to the road he tripped and fell. The exact moment he fell a moving car passed by his little fingers as he lay there on the parking lot, still a little stunned not by the moving car, which he was oblivious to, but by the fact that his quick escape was thwarted by his own clumsy feet. 

During all of this, I did what any loving mother would do to keep my other one from also running into the parking lot; shove him to the ground (don’t worry, his diaper padded his little bum). He just looked at me stunned and then burst into tears.

I can just imagine his little mind thinking, “I can’t believe my mom just pushed me!” Ugh, I know, I felt bad, but not as bad as I’d feel if both of them got hit by a car. My heart was pounding and I felt like I was going to throw up because of all the adrenaline running through my body. I gathered my boys, dusted them off, thanking God that all I had to see to was a couple little scrapes.

Every time we went into public with these rambunctious toddlers I dealt with these near-collision experiences. For their safety and my sanity I had to change my approach:

1.) Instead of STOP be specific: Every day someone was running away from me, not to be naughty but because of curiosity and whatever goes on in a toddler’s little mind. I’d yell STOP and they wouldn’t stop. Why? I figured out because STOP is a pretty vague word to a toddler. He’s thinking, “Stop what? Stop breathing, laughing, thinking, standing, sitting….” etc. Instead I started saying, “Stop your feet” or “Freeze like a statue.” That way they knew exactly what I wanted them to do.

2.) Make a game out of getting out of the car: Believe me, I know how much work it is to get toddlers out of a car, especially when they’re over strollers and want the freedom of walking on his/her own. (It was a sad day when I couldn’t contain them in a stroller anymore.) One always had to wait while I got the other out of the car and so I tried making standing in one place sound as fun and appealing as I could. If there were painted yellow or white lines to mark parking spaces I say: “Stick your feet on the line like glue. Oh, wow, look how sticky that is! Your feet are so stuck!” They think it’s so funny. If there aren’t lines I say, “The street is lava (or an ocean or quicksand)! Oh no, put your hand on the side of the van so you don’t float away!” It works every time and I still do this with my twins who are six and my daughter who is 3.

3.) Parking lot practice: My kids didn’t do all this at first, we had to practice. If I had time, I’d take them to an empty parking lot to practice standing on the lines or touching the van. If they chose to run, I’d put them back in the car seat and say, “Oh, no we’ve lost the privilege to stand out in the parking lot like a big girl/boy.” Every time they’d run off, I’d buckle them back in. It only took a few tries for them to get the point and get sick of being put back in the car.

You can use these simple phrases and adjust them to your situation where it’s easy for kids to run off. Like the bathrooms, for example, you could use the stall doors as something they need to be touching at all times. Or the shopping carts. Or, like me, now all my kiddos are mobile on two or three wheels using bikes and scooters, I yell “BRAKE!” if I need them to stop, still avoiding the vague word “STOP!”

Parking lot woes are no joke and can be incredibly unsafe and terrifying. My mom-motto is “If I can’t change my kids behavior, they’re probably not understanding what I’m asking of them, OR, I have to change my behavior in response to theirs.”

Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a is a widowed mom to three children. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.
Facebook: @JustAMomNicoleHastings