Imagine this: You are at the park (or any play area) playing with your child or maybe they are playing with other children and it’s almost time to leave…here’s how to do so without a tantrum.
STEP 1: Have your exit strategy prepared
Ten minutes BEFORE you actually want to leave go over to your child and say: “It’s almost time for us to go. We get to go see X now… or we get to do Y next.”
*Say something that is “fun” for the child, so there is an incentive to leave. Not a bribe, don’t offer a material object like a toy or prize or food. (Examples: “We get to see Daddy.” “You get to help me make dinner.” No need to go into detail or explain much.)
In five minutes ask: “Do you want to go now or in five minutes?”
*They will always pick the five minutes, but you just gave them a choice which is power in their book.
STEP 2: Leaving is non-negotiable
When the five minutes are up, go over to your child, confidently and kindly announce: “Hey sweetie, it’s time to go now. We get to go see X now…or do Y now."
*Smile. Be happy. Stay calm, but expect the worst. Be prepared for resistance – yelling or crying or screaming or running away, but you can handle it!
IF you get resistance, as you will the first time most likely, say this with REAL empathy: “Oh honey, I know you love the park. I do too! We will definitely have to come back here again, but now it’s time to go see X or do Y. Do you want to hold my hand as we walk or do you want a piggy back ride?”
*Leaving the park is not negotiable. You have to stick to the plan. You cannot give MORE time or your child will learn that you don’t really mean what you say, so they will not listen to you or trust you. Choices are power. Carry their backpack or you carry it? Give only TWO choices – two that you are OK with. Compliment them on their positive choice and how fun it is to hold their hand and leave in a fun and happy way. But if they don’t...go to your child, get low on their level, comfort them and show them empathy. We all understand it’s hard to leave a place you really like!!!
Stay calm, stay kind, you are in charge…say: “Oh sweetie, I know it’s hard, but we do need to leave. You can leave in a nice way or you can leave in a sad way, either way is OK with me, but we are leaving now. You can choose.”
IF they are screaming/crying…you pick them up and carry them. You leave. You can NOT give in. If you do, you can expect your child to resist ANYTHING you say/do that they do not like. They will learn that they can change your mind or actions to get what they want. You don’t want them to learn this behavior or your parenting life is going to be much more difficult in the long run.
Step 3: After the tears
At home, when no one is crying anymore and all have calmed down, say in a calm sweet voice: “The park was so fun today, but the leaving part was sad. I feel sad that you chose to leave the park in a not so happy way. It’s OK with me because it was your choice. I will always love you, but I hope you choose differently next time." Hug them. Walk away.
*It’s not a guilt trip. You are laying some of the ground work now for tomorrow or the next time you go to the park. You are giving them a chance to reflect. You are reminding your child that they have the power to choose how they behave.
Submitted by Anne Gribble, an Early Childhood and Parent Educator at Concordia. Read her full talk here.