We've all been there - it's time to leave the park and suddenly our toddlers are screaming, crying, running away and making quite the scene at the thought of parting with the beloved swings. It happens. We want our children to have the freedom to play and explore, but we need to ensure their safety, hold our boundaries and get stuff done! If you're experiencing these challenges at the moment, here are 4 ways you can support your child to transition out of the park to the next activity without resorting to harsh tactics.
- Offer Empathy and Understanding
When it is time to leave, your kid might be frustrated, upset, or even angry. They don't want to stop playing or be forced to leave - they have no idea what is coming next or the rationale behind leaving the most fun place in the world. In these situations, offering empathy and understanding can go a long way in helping your child feel heard and supported.
When children feel understood, they are more likely to cooperate and follow directions. One way to offer empathy is to acknowledge your child's feelings and perspective. You might say something like, "I know you are having a great time at the park, but it is time to go home now. I can be hard to leave when you are having so much fun. It sucks"
By validating your child's emotions and acknowledging their perspective, you can help diffuse tension and create a more cooperative atmosphere.
- Offer Choices
Another approach is to offer choices. Children respond positively to having a sense of control and autonomy, and offering choices can help them feel more empowered and willing togo along with what you're suggesting
Offering limited choices that are still acceptable to you can really help. For instance, you might say, "Would you like to go down the slide one more time or have a turn on the swings before we leave?" This way, your child has some control over the situation, but you are still able to guide them towards leaving the park.
- Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations
Setting clear boundaries and expectations helps your child know that whilst it's ok for them to share their frustration, their outbursts won't lead to you caving and staying longer. Children thrive on routine and consistency and setting clear expectations can help them know what to expect and feel more secure in the transition.
This might look like establishing a timeline before arriving at the park, so your child knows what to expect. You might say something like, "We don't have long to stay at the park today. When the big hand on my watch moves down to the number 6, we have to go home and cook dinner".
When it is time to leave, remind your child of the boundary you set earlier. You might say something like, "ooh, the big hand is almost on the 6. We have a little bit of time left for one last play, what would you like to choose before we go?"
By setting clear boundaries and expectations, you can help your child feel more prepared for the transition and less resistant to leaving.
4. Use forward momentum
When it is time to leave, parents can encourage their child to move forward towards the next activity rather than focusing on the fact that they have to leave the park.
One way to do this is to create a sense of excitement about the next activity. For instance, you might say something like, "We are going to have a snack when we get home, and then we can work on that puzzle you've been wanting to do!" By creating a positive focus on the next activity, you can help your child feel more enthusiastic about leaving the park and less resistant to the transition.
Another way to use forward momentum is to involve your child in the process of leaving. Rather than simply telling them it is time to go, you could get them involved in deciding how you leave, e.g. "should we take big stomps or tiny steps?!", "can you open that heavy gate or do you need my help?!". By involving them in the process, you can create a sense of cooperation and teamwork, which can help your child feel more engaged and motivated to move forward towards the next activity.
If all else fails, harness forward momentum by gently placing your hand on your childs back and steer them out of the park, all the while talking about the next fun thing's you'll do together. For some kids in some points of development, early mention of a transition can just send them into a spiral. It can pay to physically enforce the movement out of there as you announce you're leaving, rather than before.
It's never easy and no ONE strategy will work for any parent - it's all about having a toolbox of ideas and when one fails, hauling out another one. Just remember that your child's emotions and feelings are valid and to treat them as such. Being respectful about how they feel (even if we can't understand why they're kicking up such a fuss) can only support your relationship and help them to trust your decisions in the future.