Teaching Leaving Successfully


Has there ever come a time when your children acted very badly somewhere when it was time to leave, and then the next time they asked to go you said they couldn’t because of how they left last time?


Yes there has. But, I don’t want this to function as a threat – “Leave successfully or else!” The key is that I’m using it as a motivator to get them to leave successfully; I’m not threatening it won’t happen next time as much as I’m reminding them that nothing happens in a vacuum, and we have to remember we’ll be coming again and we want Mommy to look forward to it, too.

Maybe I should say that what has happened is more that an activity goes so poorly that I simply don’t go again until I think they’re ready to handle it. We’ve foregone attending movies for months at a time depending on what stage a child was in, or have left the theater early. And I’ve also simply not taken the kids somewhere because the last time made it not worth it, or I can tell they will not be successful today.

But I don’t tie it back to the previous event, as in, not going today is a punishment for not leaving well last time. If they specifically ask why we’re not going, I will explain that I just don’t think it would be a good idea and, if leaving last time was awful, I will include that as one of the reasons. I just try and keep in mind that my goal is to set them up for success. If they won’t likely be able to be successful, then it’s best I not set them up for failure.


How do you teach leaving successfully, especially after a weekly playdate?


Leaving successfully is most definitely a skill, and it’s a hard one for some children. Think of all the highly-charged issues that are built into leaving. It’s a transition, usually the child is hungry or tired, he has been having fun and now has to stop, he loves his friend and doesn’t want to leave, he isn’t sure when and if he’ll ever get to come back.

Now, for a weekly playdate, one of the first things I suggest is to take this time to teach the days of the week and the calendar. Show your daughter that every week she gets to go, and remind her when you’re leaving that you will come again next week. Show her the pattern, count down the days, remind her that morning that it’s time to go to the play-date, and help her realize that you will remember and not forget.


Some children get stressed with knowing too much in advance; for them I’d suggest doing everything except the counting down, and only do that if they ask during the week how many days until playdate. It also helps if there are other things on your schedule so they can look forward to something every day – time together, homeschool times, special meals, daddy’s days off, etc.

Then, depending on how intense your child is about leaving, set some realistic and incremental goals that you want to see success with. With some children, you will have total success the first time you do the things I’m about to suggest, then the next 10 times it’s a struggle.

So, being realistic, if your child is having a total meltdown when it comes time to leave, you might set your initial goal as having her walk without having to be carried. Sit her down before you leave your home, and again before you go into the playdate, and talk to her about your expectations. Say to her, “I want you to be successful. Leaving successfully looks like ______.” Be specific – don’t use vague and ambiguous words like nice or quiet. I’d probably say, “Leaving successfully means when I say, ‘It’s time to go,’ you say with a soft voice, ‘Okay, Momma.’ Let’s practice.” I’d go on to explain that I don’t want to see whining, yelling, dropping down or needing to be carried – those would not be successful. Then we’d practice successful and unsuccessful until she understood the difference. I would also assure her I would remind her if she needs it.


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