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What do I do when my child runs away?


​​What do I do when my child runs away from the house for first time? What am I required to do?


Boys Town - Running away

We are glad you are writing in for guidance. Because this is the first time your child has run away, it is scary thinking about them being out there without anyone to protect them from all the bad things in our world. In many states, parents are responsible for the safety of their child from birth to 18 or 19 years of age. If we don't know where they are, who they are with or what they are doing, it is difficult and nearly impossible to keep them safe. For that reason, we encourage parents to take action. If children leave without your permission or don't come home when they are supposed to, call the police and report them as a runaway. 

When they return, it is helpful to talk calmly with them about the fact that we all have a natural instinct when confronted with conflict of some kind to either “fight or take flight." Both of those choices can result in a bad situation if taken literally. The “fight" can mean to argue, threaten or verbally protest and doesn't mean using fists to fight. The “take flight" can mean to run away like your child has done, but it can also mean to turn and walk away or storm off to their room.  

After explaining this, suggest that if their instinct is to “take flight," then, together, you can work on a way for them to “get away" from the conflict to calm down without leaving your property. Getting away can mean going to a safe spot in your home where no one will approach them or talk to them for a designated amount of time while they calm themselves.

When they return, you may give a negative consequence because you do not want them to continue this behavior again in the future. Perhaps they are without privileges for the amount of time they were gone and time since returning to talk with you about it all. Have them write down what they will do differently the next time they feel like running away, and then have them help you with tasks or chores around the home until that time is up. Keep them close so you can monitor and talk to them and get a feel for their level of calmness. You can also address the initial issue that preceded the runaway and teach them a better way to handle it and other situations like it.