Q: My almost four-year-old daughter is generally well-behaved except for screaming and running away from me when we leave a store, the library, etc. before she’s ready to go. She pulls away from me and runs. If we’re already outside, she often puts herself in danger. I have spanked her and sent her to her room when we get home. When I punish her, she is sorry, but the next time we leave a public place, she does the same thing. She’s too big for me to pick her up kicking and screaming and carry her to the car. I have been leaving her home as much as I can while I go shopping, but that really doesn’t solve the problem. What can I do?
A: Have I got a solution for you! It’s called the "dry run.”
At this point, your problem is that when your daughter goes on the lam, your hands are probably full or close to it. Furthermore, you may be in the middle of a string of errands and can't immediately go home. So, you muddle through the situation as best you can while in the meantime becoming more and more flustered, and you end up not sending your daughter a clear, powerful message concerning your expectations.
A dry run: Take your runaway to her favorite store. Go with no purpose in mind save that of setting a disciplinary precedent. When you get to the store, look around for a while, then buy her something she wants. It is important that when you leave the store you are not carrying anything except whatever thingy you bought for your daughter. When it's time to go, and she begins to scream and struggle, you put down what you bought for her—even if you’ve already paid for it (it should, therefore, be inexpensive)—pick her up, carry her to the car (you can do this!), strap her in, drive her home and confine her in her room until bedtime, which should be as early as possible. Calmly inform her that this is the procedure from now on.
The next day, take her on another dry run. When you get to the store, say, "Remember yesterday? If you scream, I'm going to take you home and put you in your room. When you're in your room, I get a lot done around the house, so scream and try to run if you want to." Act very nonchalant, like it doesn't matter to you if she screams and tries to bolt or not.
My guess is she won't scream, but if she does, it’s no longer skin off your back. Three to five dry runs should solve the problem. Nonetheless, for the next three months or so, whenever you go to a store, you are going to have to remind her of "the deal" and stand ready to act if she has a relapse.