While the theatrics of leave-taking is emotionally draining at the least, the more devastating effect is that it chips away at the credibility and authority of a parent, one episode at a time. Learning how to get your child to leave the park (or any place or thing or person) willingly and graciously is vital to the long-term health of your relationship with your child.
If a child’s emotional stability and well-being can be compared to a bank account, then every promise fulfilled is a deposit and every attempt of rule enforcement sabotaged, a withdrawal. These mini-episodes of tuck-of-war between parent and child are numerous purchases of overpriced lattes. At first, the costs seem trivial enough, one at a time. But when tallied up at the end of the year, they are actually a good-sized drain-hole for your hard-earned dollars.
In short, not properly asserting your authority hurts you and your child in the long run. As a parent, you should strive to make regular deposits into this delicate “bank account.”
What’s the work-around?
Be a human snooze alarm. Give multiple advance notices.
Imagine you were being forcibly dragged from a party where you’re having the time of your life without any warning whatsoever. Would you be upset? Be respectful of your child’s feelings. Give them time to reconcile themselves to the fact that all things (even good things) must come to an end.
Within the first few times they stepped foot in a park, my children were trained to anticipate when they were to end their play and leave the park. We started out with a 30-minute warning, then 15, then 10, then 5, then the “one more time down the slide” as we were walking out of the park. Were they too young to understand? Not at all! It’s a very simple trigger/ event loop that can be easily absorbed by a child even before she can verbalize what’s going on. For one, my kids never failed to follow immediately right after we announced “T minus zero!” And never once did we have to cajole them to leave.
To thine own self, be true. Follow your own command.
Do you heed your own warning? Are you guilty of lingering for another 10 to 20 minutes at the door to finish a conversation after you’ve announced your intention to leave a friend’s house? If so, you need to take yourself seriously. In order for your words to have any authority at all, you need to be the staunchest follower of those same rules. If you habitually linger a few minutes longer after announcing the departure each time, your children would be justified in not taking your words seriously and even blatantly ignoring them.
Be the leader of the pack. Action speaks louder than words.
As soon as “T minus 5” is announced, make the move to pack up all your personal belongings to leave the park. If convenient, go as far as loading up all bulky items in the car first and come back to fetch the kid right on time. Use the timer on your phone to show that you mean business and to keep both you and your child on task. Don’t confuse the child by contradicting yourself by acting differently than your words. As what one famous dog trainer likes to call “training the human and rehabilitating the dog”, the same goes for parent and child: if your behavior is consistent with your words, your child will follow.
“That’ll do pig. That’ll do.” Acknowledge and praise your child.
Most would consider farmer Hoggett in “Babe the Pig” a man of few words. But he is wise in not sparing the ultimate compliment that his “child”, Babe needs to hear.
It is crucial with any training that the whole process is completed with positive reinforcement. This has nothing to do with rewarding and not even praising, necessarily but everything to do with acknowledging your child’s willingness and efforts to cooperate with you. In fact, less is more. Simply state what a great time you’ve had with your child at the park and how you look forward to doing it again. The message here is that good behavior on your child’s part will automatically prompt future “rewards” of coming to the park again. The “praise” given in this understated manner is to prevent confusing the person with his behavior. The separation of the person and the deed of the child is one of the nuances that a parent should take time to distinguish and convey to the child: correct the misdeeds, love the person. Similarly important: praise the good deeds, apart from the person. But more on that later…
When a reward is not a bribe: the secret of training that sticks.
This step is not needed to solicit a one-time behavior but if you would like the behavior to continue, this is the secret to make it stick: reward unequally, irregularly, without foreknowledge. By reward, I mean, buying ice-cream, giving out a small trinket, watching a short video, etc… Nothing outrageous. Nothing super fancy. Give a small treat for good behavior once every 3 or 4 times. Change up the pattern and don’t tell them overtly that it is because they manage to leave the park willingly without a meltdown. Say simply that you’re having a great day with them and would like a treat yourself. The trick is to act low-key and to make the reward unpredictable, so as not to be perceived as a bribe or even an incentive to perform.
Don’t undermine yourself by “talking terms” with your children in order to solicit cooperation. Don’t make vain threats. But do make good behavior and respectful attitude part of the normal course of your relationship with your children. On the flip side, place yourself into their shoes, view things from their small, fragile, and literal minds, and set things up so you can help them win.