How do I transition for one event to another without resorting to bribing my kids? I tell them that we’ll go to the play land after all my errands are done, but they never get through the errands without a meltdown, then I’m not sure if I should still let them go have fun. So, do you have any advice on how to handle this?
When my third child was born, I decided I didn’t want to spend time wrestling three squirmy and screaming kids to the car. I explained that if it wasn’t fun for me, too, I wouldn’t provide as many chances of fun for them; the availability of fun shouldn’t make that much more work for mom. We had to spend several months working on two important things: “Leaving successfully is part of coming again next time,” and practicing before we go in that they will say, “Yes, Momma,” when I say it’s time to leave.
We would talk before we went in somewhere. We’d remind about the rules, including “Listen to mommy’s words,” and then I’d add, “And what do we say when Momma says, ‘It’s time to go?’” I taught them the answer was, “Okay, Momma.” We’d practice a few times. “Time to go,” “Okay, Momma.” And they went from grumbling it to saying it cheerily. (I’d prompt them, “Oh, can you say that with a little more of a smile?”) Now I just remind them and they do great. If I forget to remind them, I can also prompt them, “Uh oh, what do we say when Momma says it’s time to leave?” and they quickly respond.
I would also remind them, in the midst of struggles to leave, “Leaving successfully is part of coming again next time. Please don’t make this so much work for me that I don’t want to come and have fun.”
This now allows me the freedom to decide to let them have fun because I know I won’t have to be wrangling kids. And, as soon as it becomes work, I announce that we’re leaving and off we go.
Eventually, I had to say we were going no matter what and let the anxiety calm down over a few times, then I was able to set a rule about going. The rule was, “If we can’t get along with our family, we can’t be around other people.” This took the power for their behavior away from me (where it was when I was threatening) and put it with them (I could ask, “Are you getting along?” and prompt them towards better behavior). Also, this rule involved me. I had to get along as well.
Now, in your specific situation, I have a few thoughts. First, when you’re out running errands would it be possible to break them up with the play land place? Is it possible you’re asking too much from your children before they get to do that?
Another thought: Are your kids afraid you will take away the “fun trip” if they aren’t just so? When I was threatening with not going places, I found the mornings of those activities much more full of anxiety for the kids – they were never sure if they were going to get to go or if I would decide they couldn’t.
Also, are you considering the errands an adult activity that your children are along for, and the reward for the work is the play time? What about ways to make the work more fun? Are there ways your children can be involved with the errands so they’re not bored? I know I tend to get focused on the adult stuff and it ends up annoying me that my kids want to be kids. Then I incorporate fun into it all, and we do a lot better.
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.
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.