But I don’t wanna go home.
You gave her ten-minute, five-minute, two-minute, and one-minute warnings, and now it’s really time to go. She nodded, smiling, and said ‘OK,’ after each reminder, but now… tears. She JUST remembered she hasn’t hit the sandbox yet and is beyond devastated. Sigh. Just how many warnings does it take to make a clean break?
Talk it out and stay true to your word.
We’ve all been there. Everyone’s having fun, no one wants to leave, but dinner was supposed to be half an hour ago and, um, still has to be made. We’ve been finessing our park/splash pad/playdate farewells since our seven year-old was a swing/slide/mulch-loving tot, and here’s what we’ve figured out:
- Stick to two warnings, max. The first is a general heads-up, at five or ten minutes, and the second is when it’s getting down to the wire (one or two minutes). Any more than that and she’ll either tune you out or bristle at your nagging.
- Use realistic time. You don’t have to wear a watch or keep checking your phone, but giving a two minute warning that drags on indefinitely will only confuse her.
- Have a conversation on the way to your destination to make your expectations clear. Get her input into how she wants the final showdown to go (she might actually request five warnings at one-minute intervals or want a reminder if she hasn’t monkey-barred it yet). This is also the perfect time to discuss the consequences if she kicks up a fuss when you put your foot down.
- Give her A LOT of choices. But with each choice, offer only two options and both have to be something you can live with. For example: “Do you want to walk home or would you prefer to sit in the stroller?”; “Do you want to eat these carrot sticks on the way home or wait until dinner’s ready?”; “Would you like to bring that beautiful leaf home with us or leave it at the park?”. We often ask “Are you ready to go now or do you want five more minutes?” instead of the more common “Five more minutes,” warning. We sound ridiculous because, duh, of course they want five more minutes. But the more choices you give, the more likely they’ll comply when you finally issue an order. When each of our boys were three, we used to follow up with “So five more minutes and then you promise you’ll come with no complaining?” Eager promises were made to secure that “bonus” play time. When they inevitably started complaining five minutes later, calmly saying “Hmm, you promised you wouldn’t complain and now you are. So I guess the next time we’re at the park I’ll just have to say it’s time to go and won’t give you the choice of extra time,” usually put the kaibosh on any grumbling.
- If she’s not listening/co-operating, follow through on the consequences you laid out beforehand. This could mean skipping the park tomorrow, a timeout (in the park or when you get home), or anything else you think is appropriate. From about age three, we’ve found the best natural consequence is to simply start walking when time’s up. Sometimes they’ll come running right away, and sometimes we have to wait behind a bush or around the corner (somewhere they can’t see us but we can keep an eye on them). As soon as they realize we’re gone, they rush to catch up. Our four year-old still likes to stand on the back of the stroller or ride in the wagon, and since he’s the one most likely to be tardy and then tantrum it up, we let him know we’re happy to give him a ride once he’s calmed down. He might defiantly walk a block or two wailing angrily but sooner or later he gets tired/lazy and the crying magically stops.
Family fun doesn’t have to end in a meltdown. If you make sure there’s no miscommunication and prepare yourself for a few teary-eyed teaching moments, your monkey will quickly adapt and those disastrous playground departures will soon be a thing of the past.
Email us if she just keeps playing when you walk away or has a hard time making up her mind when you give her a choice… we’ve got tips!