It is important for parents to stay attuned to their child’s needs, to recognize openings for meaningful conversations, and to access appropriate resources for assistance. Problems intensify for children and youth when they feel they are unable to talk to their parents — this may leave them feeling alone and overwhelmed.
There are things you can do to help your child through difficult times and help build their connection to the family, rather than choosing to run away.
Communicate with your child
- Listen to and empathize with their worries, feelings and concerns.
- Use words such as “tell me more about that” followed by remaining quiet and listening carefully to their concerns and feelings.
- Look for openings for meaningful conversation and sharing that is not forced. Tell your child that you love them and want them to be safe. Take an interest in what they are doing and what they are interested in.
Recognize and acknowledge issues within your home that may be upsetting to your child
- Major upheavals (e.g., divorce, remarriage, separation) can trigger feelings for your child that they may want to try to escape.
- If there is abuse happening in the home, either between the adults or against the child, it needs to be addressed.
- If a parent or sibling has alcohol and/or drug use issues, your teen may feel it is easier to leave than to try to resolve the problem.
Addressing these types of situations is complex and often requires the involvement and support of others, such as a family counsellor, extended family, police, or child and family services. Be honest about what your family, and your child, is struggling with and take steps to get the help needed.
Take time to repair damage caused after a confrontation or heated argument
- Regardless of the nature of the dispute, the angry words spoken, or the increased hostility, it is essential that the adult(s) initiate the repairing process. Try to stay connected with your child to show them that regardless of the argument, you are still there for them.
- Create opportunities to engage with your child.
- Share with your child any concerns or worries you may have about them. Give third-person examples or stories (i.e., stories about what other people have gone through or experienced) to pique your child’s interest and not sound like you are lecturing them or being judgmental.
Connect with other adults
If you recognize signs that your child is at risk of running away, you are likely going to need the assistance and the support of other adults. These adults may provide support for you and may help identify additional actions you can take to help protect your child.
If you are concerned your child may run or if they have indicated they might, you certainly want to discourage this from happening. However, if all else fails, it is also important to consider alternative options. For example, sometimes all you and your child may need is a “cool down” period to de-escalate the situation. Consider the possibility of your child staying with a relative or close family friend for a short period of time.
The information provided above is intended for information purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. Readers should assess all information in light of their own circumstances, the age and maturity level of the child they wish to protect, and any other relevant factors.