The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that up to 2.8 million children and teens run away from home each year. Many return home within the first 24 hours, but there are still a staggering number that never make it home. If your child is threatening to run away, here are 10 things to consider.
- Assess the Actual Risk – An older child with serious behavioral problems is significantly more likely to run away than an angry elementary school student. Try to determine if there’s an actual risk, or if your child is simply making threats out of an inability to properly express themselves.
- Create an Environment Conducive to Talking – Kids that don’t feel as if they can be honest and open with their parents often feel as if there’s no one at home who can help them. Creating an environment that helps your child feel comfortable and respected is one of the best ways to get to the root of and to prevent problems.
- Ask Them How They Can Make Their Situation Better – When your child calms down enough to speak rationally, ask them what other steps they could take to improve the situation they’d like to run away from. Often, verbalizing their problems and actively looking for alternative solutions will ease the powerlessness that they feel and help them think more clearly.
- Focus On Causes, Not Threats – Though threats of running away should never be treated lightly, it’s best to focus on finding out the cause of your child’s distress before tackling the resulting threats.
- Speak to Your Pediatrician – If you genuinely feel that your child is at risk of running away, your pediatrician or family doctor can refer you to a therapist or counselor who can help you monitor your child and uncover the underlying issue.
- Stay Calm – Though threats of running away are very upsetting to any parent, it’s important not to let anger or hysterical emotion come to the surface during a conversation with your child, especially a teenager. Teens are often uncomfortable with these displays and may feel an even stronger urge to escape the pressure.
- Never Call Their Bluff – Offering to help your child pack or calling their bluff only serves to make them feel unwanted, which could elevate what was an idle threat to a point where they feel obligated to leave.
- Acknowledge That You Can’t Stop Them – A sense of powerlessness and an idea that living on their own will help them regain that lost power is often a large part of the appeal of running away. By acknowledging that you can’t stop your child from running away if they’re determined to, but that you desperately want them to stay, can help them feel as if a bit of power has been restored.
- Explore Other Options – Kids that want to run away because of bullying or harassment at school may be so desperate to escape the torment that they’ll go to any lengths. If this is the case with your child, it might be a good idea to seriously discuss options like homeschooling or even moving to another school district.
- Understand That Threats Are a Plea For Help – When kids threaten to run away, they’re doing so because they want to be stopped. Cluing parents in on plans to flee opens the door for serious preventative measures, and kids know that. Without marginalizing your child’s threats to leave, focus on the help they’re seeking.
Children that run away from home and never return are often victims of sex trafficking, drug abuse and other dangers. Letting your child know that they are loved and wanted, and that you will do everything in your power to help them through a difficult time, can keep them from this dangerous fate.