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Little Runaways

Toddlers love to take off as fast as their little legs can carry them. They delight in being able to run around and check out everything, says Bob Murray, Ph.D., author of Raising an Optimistic Child. They're also trying to figure out how much control they have. "Just watch how a toddler keeps looking back to see if she can provoke a reaction from you and get you to follow her," Murray says. To keep your child by your side when it isn't safe for her to run off:

Don't overexplain. Say, "Stay by Mommy, please." Beyond that, a toddler doesn't understand that her wandering could lead to trouble. She has little sense of distance and expects you'll always be close by.

Assign her a job. Kids love to be helpful, so give her a plastic garden tool of her own when you rake the yard, for instance.

Make sticking around fun. As you zip into a couple of stores at the mall, point out everything you pass in your best "isn't this exciting!" mom voice.

Give her a dose of freedom. Let her explore in safe environments, such as a fenced-in park.

Be firm. Toddlers want to know what's expected of them. If yours starts heading in the wrong direction when you thought she could walk beside you, take her hand, say no, and redirect her to someplace she is allowed to go.