This is about ways to keep your bolting child safe. “Bolting”, “eloping” or “child who runs away with abandon” – this post is about ways to keep the child who is a runner, safe.
Your “Runner” – Keeping the Eloping Child Safe
Bolting is very common with kids with Down syndrome and Autism.
It’s also common with some kids with other disabilities, and it’s different from just “running away,” – it’s running away without conscience, with a complete disregard for safety or caution, almost an inability to stop.
Some people call it “eloping” and others simply “running;” I tend to call it “bolting.”
How to keep your bolting child safe
How to stop a child with Down syndrome or Autism from eloping at all is the best possible course of action, but failing that – or until they have learned to stop bolting, keeping them safe is what’s on my mind.
I initially wrote this post 6 years ago after my then-3 year old daughter with Down syndrome figure out how to undo the door lock, slipped out of the house, under a gate and was found wandering around the street trying to cross to get to the big playground.
I have updated the post with the most current tools that we parents have.
There are affiliate links in this post – and all that means is that if you buy something using a link here, Amazon or the company will give me a percentage but you will pay no more than you would have. Not all of the links are affiliate. Nothing is listed here that was not used by me or recommended to me, and nothing is listed here for any reason other than to help you.
Without further ado, let’s get to the tips!
Top GPS Tracking Devices for Eloping Children
I really like this option, personally. There are a lot of variations on the same theme – attach something to your child and an alarm will blare when they have gone beyond a set distance from you.
AngelSense also comes with a voice monitoring option (to listen in). This would be gold for you hearing parents! Personally, I get nothing from that added feature, but I do love that it is so accurate that it will tell you which bush your child is hiding behind.
a. AngelSense GPS Tracker for Children with Disabilities – this has the solid gold stamp. It’s been around a while and has stellar reputation for tracking our kids.
In addition to the GPS, it has a ‘listen in’ voice monitoring option.
This means that if you have any concerns about what’s going on around your child at school or throughout the day, this would be a way to assure yourself. It is can be expensive though, and requires a monthly fee (after the first year which is included in the device price).
The AngelSense device itself not waterproof yet.
You need to get a plastic cover for it, easily purchased on the AngelSense site.
b. JioBit: This new whiz-kid in the GPS tracking community – apparently doing what AngelSense does, what with tracking your child , but for far less money (and without the listening-in option and the intensely accurate tracking that AngelSense has).
People love it (I haven’t tried it, but I’d like to).
c. CMKJ Smartwatch for kids – this looks simple, straightforward, inexpensive and kid-friendly. Waterproof, with GPS.
Read: How an AppleWatch Can Help with Disability
a review of the AppleWatch from a disability standpoint
If your family runs on a Mac system already, this is, I think, one of the best options. What I mean by that is, if you already use Mac for everything, the AppleWatch can synch and integrate with YOUR AppleWatch, you can set the tracking features to your iPhone which also integrate with your MacBook, etc.
Also: AppleWatches are really coming down in price. If you wait for a sale, you will pay between $150-300 as a one-time fee (no monthly subscriptions!).
For a younger child, the band can be removed and the watch head placed it in a waterproof pouch as a necklace or clip. Use the “find my phone” feature or “locate family”. You can use the “walkie-talkie” feature, watch-to-watch.
For an older child, it could simply be worn as a watch. We do this, and I love it because I can set it with reminders for my child, as well as use it as a tracking device.
According to the Police, only phone numbers, not names should be listed.
a. I liked Road ID Personalized Medical ID Bracelet a lot.
It’s great because it looks like it will pack a lot of information on that little plate.
Name, phone number, address.
b. Chain ID Bracelets are a great option for kids that like jewelry .
It can have a lot of the same info, just maybe a little less than the Road ID Personalized Medical ID Bracelet.
Sound & Flashing Light Alerts
a. A lot of people seem to use Door Open Chime Alarms.
It’s simple: the alarm goes off when the door is opened. You can program them and get them to stop/go.
They are inexpensive and seem to be easy to install.
b. Squeaky Shoes This is something really simple, but if you can hear the high pitch from the squeak and if your child is wearing these, you’ll be able to have an idea of where your child is.
This was extremely useful to me when my eloping child was small enough to fit into these.
Physical & Visual Barriers
For the truly savvy kid (read: YOUR KID), gates aren’t likely to be anything more than an exciting hurdle.
It’s going to slow them down but not stop them. Still, when you are dealing with runners that are as fast as ours, a hurdle is still a desirable thing, right? There are a ton of gates out there, here are 3 types that caught my eye:
a. Extra Tall Gates: My friend sent me this link to some gates that she said were great with her child.
They are just really tall expandable and removable gates that will be difficult for a little kid to get over, around or through.
b. These Retractable Driveway Guards are great because while they will NOT stop our kids from going, they serve as a bright visual reminder of how far to go.
Easy to install, portable.
So you could set it up, then really work with your child on not going past that boundary.
d. Deadbolts are a must for any family with a child who might bolt.
If you have a child with a propensity to escape, GET ONE NOW.
There are hundreds out there to choose from; this is just one that came recommended by a friend.
Simple Solutions While Outside
Putting a Monkey on Their Backs Harnesses is in essence a leash on your kid isn’t attractive and makes you feel like the crunchy Berkeley hippie parents are going to spit on you and call CPS. But what’s better – that or calling the Police yourself because your kid ran too fast through legs in a crowd and you lost her?
NOTE: I initially only got my daughter to wear this after a lot of effort. Her big brother (and superstar) wore it around the house to help out (= make it desirable). She ended up loving it, which easily paved the way to the next step:
I went and bought an extra-large dog collar .
The extra-large dog collar fit her waist like a belt.
Then I got a retractable sturdy leash which attached to the collar/belt at her waist.
I came up with this after a particularly terrifying eloping episode. This was highly effective in keeping my little bolting child safe, and we used it until she was almost 9.
b. Bright Clothing
It feels a little obvious, but: Neon Clothes.
I mean, if you dress your kid in neon, it’s a lot easier to see them. Neon clothes are kind of “in” right now, so it’s a good time to stock up on some cute designs
d. Good Strollers
The BOB Revolution is going to take your child with Down syndrome far past 5 years old, especially with our kids typically being on the small side.
Read my post on the BOB Revolution – I had a double BOB myself and used it until my eloping daughter was 9.
Pricey but definitely worth it, because it’s a sure way to keep your bolting child safe.
How to Stop Our Kids From Running, Bolting, Eloping
Tools (gizmos and gadgets!) can be
really helpful indispensable in keeping our runners safer.
We also need ways to try and prevent our kids from running to begin with.
We are talking about children who are NOT neuro-typical though; we are talking about children who are wired in ways we don’t yet really understand. What makes them want, need, yearn to run in the beginning isn’t really understood, nor is it understood why they bolt with the abandon that they do.
Not understanding the why’s make prevention very challenging; we’re just groping around for answers and solutions, really, and that means that sharing what has worked for us is all the more valuable, right?
My daughter is now 9 years old now. She does not bolt, run or elope anymore.
What was once a terrifying daily occurrence – and one in which she could easily have been killed – was curbed entirely.
Part of it was her simply growing older and out of it, I am sure. Part of it was the employment of SO MANY (if not all?) of the tools in this post, and her gradual accustoming to staying by me, checking in and so forth.
We also used my service dog.
A Service Dog for Our Eloping Kids
Our kids with disabilities qualify for service dogs.
Service dogs can be a fantastic option on many levels: to help keep an eloping child safe, to provide companionship, to help the child in specific, disability-related ways.
Service dogs can be free or they can cost; it depends on where you get your dog from. Mine was free, she was bred to be a service dog, and came from the highly reputable Canine Companions for Independence (and she also came after a 2-year wait).
My dog helped my daughter by being her companion and by nudging her when I was calling for her. My dog would sort of shepherd my child back home, nudging her and nosing her in my direction.
It was very effective.
Read my post on How Do I Get a Service Dog? for more.
In Sum: How to Keep Your Bolting Child Safe
Like most other parents of a bolting child, I’ve experienced those moments of sheer terror, not knowing where my child has run off to. I’ve also had the moments where she is sees something interesting and is about to make a break for it, cars be damned. Heart in my throat, I’ve run faster than I ever thought I could, and I’ve been lucky.
We don’t have to rely on luck though. Not when there are tools like the ones above that we can employ.
This post was originally written in 2018 and has been updated since.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.