“It’s time to go now!” That dreaded announcement somehow always throws your child into a frenzy, accompanied by heart-wrenching sobs and desperate ear-piercing screams. The younger they are, the harder the fight it is to “tear” them away from the activities that they are engrossed in.
Park visit. Play date. Visit to grandparents. Screen time on any and all mobile or immobile devices. How to get your child to leave the park or any place at all is the all-encompassing challenge that sends many grown-ups into a tail-spin.
Still, the incredulous thing to observe here is not the child’s emotional display, but that of the parent’s inability to enforce the very intention that started the whole hullabaloo.
Oh, and how about the inherent unfairness of not giving them enough warning? As in: to mentally prepare them to part with the things that they were enjoying at the moment? Not nice.
So, the pattern ensues:
The child gets no heads-up and no inclusion in the family’s timeline. Your “command” sounds like a whim or a suggestion. She balks. She whines and cries for more time. But more often, she ignores because deep down she knows that you don’t mean business.
You confirm her suspicion by not getting up to gather up your stuff to leave. You continue your conversation for another 10 minutes. You do not update her on the “new” time to leave. You look up. Now it’s really time to go. You holler at her to go, this time anxiously.
Five more minutes elapsed. Still no sign of your child waiting patiently by your side, bright-eyed and ready to go. You look for her. She resorts to playing hide-and-seek with you. You find her by the side of the couch, hoping for invisibility but getting found anyways.
She shouts in panic, “NO!”
You shout in surprise, “YES! YES! It’s time, move it!”
A storm is gathering quickly on her face. She gets teary but still more determined to push the envelope a bit further. She pleads and bargains for more time. She says, P-L-E-A-S-E prettily.
Suddenly, you remember that you might not have been fair about not warning her after all. Better to explain things over and then she’ll listen and comply. You turn to your “good cop” self and start to reason with her.
OK. She’s listening, eyes glistening with falsified attention while her hands are busy playing, building, tearing down, and building again. She satisfies herself with the knowledge that her parent’s commands aren’t really commands at all but suggestions, subject to her approval:
Right, right, it’s time to go… blah, blah, blah… traffic… errands… blah, blah, blah… home to cook dinner… blah, blah, blah… daddy… work… tired…
She nods as if she understands. But when you repeat the leave-taking, she simply asserts her opinion of the whole business and says: no.
Agitated and exasperated, you turn to your “bad cop” self and throw in some threats, some half-way belligerent complains, some self-piteous commentaries on how tired you are and how ungrateful she is.
This time, she hears the urgency and agitation in your voice. She grows frightened but still more desperate. She screams, “NO!!! I don’t want to go!!!” You scream, “But we have to. Let’s go!!!”
The exchange goes back and forth, with neither of you moving any closer to your destination.
Finally, tired of the yelling fest and pressed by the now drop-dead timeline, you pick up your stuff, push, shove, and drag your kid into compliance.
She cries, sobs, screams… life is soooooo unfair! What does a kid have to do these days to get some respect??
You feel bad. Or just greatly embarrassed. You want to be a good parent. Or all that drama is pushing your headache into overdrive. Whatever propels you, you now want peace more than anything. Worse yet: you want her to like you. You want to be her friend. You negotiate with that puddle of tears next to you.
You bribe her. You promise her the moon if only she’ll stop crying. There, there. Much better. Not a parent-of-the-year moment but not bad. Right?
What should you do instead? Read on…