What can I do to prevent my child from running in parking lots?

Parking lot safety is important to keeping your child safe. CareNectar expert Martha Tyler shares several tips to keep your child from running around in parking lots.

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Every time I’m in a parking lot with my six-year-old daughter, she takes off running. I am terrified that one day she will get hit by a car. And not only that, it’s embarrassing! I find myself yelling and running after her, but I feel like she’s too old for this type of behavior. I’ve tried holding her hand, but she’s strong and pulls away. How do I teach her to be safe in the parking lot?


Oh, goodness! This is hard and I’m sure it’s so frustrating for you! Here are a few ideas to try. Take what serves you and leave what doesn’t!

  • Talk to your daughter about this when everyone is calm. I love using “I’ve noticed” or “I’ve been wondering”. For this case, you might say something like, “I’ve noticed that when we are leaving places, sometimes you run ahead to the car. That’s not safe. My number one job is to keep you safe. I’ve been wondering how we can be more safe in parking lots.” Get out a piece of paper and jot down ideas. Take her ideas seriously. Offer your own ideas. Come up with one to try next time you’re out and about. 
  • Try to figure out why she wants to get to the car first. Is it that everything is a competition? Is it that she wants a certain seat? If she’s turned it into a game, try to come up with a different game to give her when you are leaving a space. “While you’re holding my hand, can you find a license plate from another state on our way to the car?” Or “While you’re holding my hand can you count how many cars we pass until we get to ours?” 
  • I would also suggest a hand-holding rule in any space with cars. I know that you said she pulls away. I would introduce the boundary and really stick to it. Don’t let it only come up when she’s running away. Start making it an across the board rule. Any time you’re in a place with cars, she must hold an adult’s hand. 
  • A great way to explain why that rule exists and doesn’t shame the child is to show your child that adults can’t see kids when they are right in front of a car. To show this, you can trace your child’s body on cardboard and stand it up in front of a car. Have your child sit in the driver’s seat and look. Ask, “Can you see the kid in front of the car?” Then walk across holding the hand of the cardboard. Ask again, “Can you see me (the adult) when I walked across? That’s why we have to hold hands around cars. Sometimes drivers can’t see you and might hit you with their car. My job is to keep you safe. I need to hold your hand around cars to help keep you safe.” You can also do this same thing with a friend or sibling if you don’t want to make a cardboard cutout. 
  • Find a spot where she can run! Go to an open field and allow her to run. Say, here it’s safe for you to run, run, run! 
  • Try to avoid bringing her along for errands when she is tired or towards the end of the day. I know this is extra hard, but having her join you when she is tired might make the power struggle even worse.
  • Praise her as much as you can, especially right before you’re going out somewhere. Any little thing she does that is something you’d like to see more of, start telling her thank you for that. “I saw how you walked so nicely to the bathroom. Thank you for using your walking feet.”
  • Offer other choices. Saying something like, “I can’t let you run to the car. When you’re holding my hand, would you like to walk like a dinosaur or dance like a ballerina on our way to the car?” 

This is so hard and we’re here for you! Your best bet is to try to bring her onto the same team and really focus on safety. “We have to be safe” can be your mantra!

Meet The Expert

Martha Tyler

Martha has her Masters in Education and is a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. She has worked as a sitter, nanny, tutor, or teaching artist over the past 20+ years. In addition, Martha has hosted a child care podcast, Chronicles of Nannya, for several years. She is also the co-founder of Compassionate Childcare LLC and is thrilled to be able to share her experience, knowledge, and resources with CareNectar!