At what age can we expect our children to understand “leaving successfully,” and the concept of “if we are successful this week, we can come back next week,” and vice versa?
My children have understood this idea as young as 2 years old, but what I expected from them to make the leaving a success was different depending on the age and the child.
For example, I expect my 3-year-old to be expressing her sadness, even through tears, but walking herself to the car, and my five-year-old may tell me he’s not happy about leaving, but he’s walking without a fuss. I also don’t expect them to take responsibility for my failure to make sure they aren’t overdoing it or suffering from some unmet need. So, for example, I wouldn’t take my kids to the park during naptime and without a snack, and then get upset that they were melting down before I insist we’re leaving. In all things, I try to set them up for success.
So, given a proactive approach from Mommy, I was able to get three kids to the car when one was two, one was four, and one was a baby in a sling. If I knew it was going to be a long day or leaving would be extra tough, I made sure to have a double stroller with me so I could have them get successfully into the stroller, even if they cried all the way to the van.
I also worked on incremental improvements. In other words, focus on the success. If a child is typically falling apart when you leave, consider it a success this time if they can walk themselves to the car. Next time, consider it a success if they can do that without screaming and crying the entire time. Focus on the positive improvements; as Rebecca Bailey points out in Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, we get more of what we focus on.