You hate it, I hate, we all hate it. That embarrassing moment at the park. Your children are playing happily and then that family with the kid you don’t know says “Johnny, it’s time to go!” My kids will gawk, I turn away and try to visit with you until the ordeal passes.
It’s harder when it’s in your home, and it’s your friend standing at the door way. “Thanks so much, we had a great time!” your girlfriend says as she drags Ally past you wailing and stomping as you awkwardly smile and wave.
But then. But then. It’s even more humiliating when it’s your own kid. Nothing is working, the situation is escalating and you know you aren’t going to get out of the party without a scene. And you are stuck right in the middle of it with your offspring shouting at you.
So, let’s get two things cleared up right away. First, we’ve all been there! Moms, your kids are going to throw departure fits when they have to leave somewhere and are having a good time. We all know how awkward it is. Second, this article isn’t really going to “fix,” “prevent,” or provide an “four-step-plan-to-fit-free-living.” But what we all need to remember as moms is that the way we handle departing from the park (or the party, or the playdate, or the pizza parlor) is that how we behave is of far greater importance than how our children behave. Again, they are going to throw fits. The question is: How will we respond?
I’d like to share a few priorities that other moms have demonstrated for me that have helped me along the way. The wonderful thing is that these things start right away! You don’t have to wait until your child is five to start dealing with this issue. You can start responding correctly as soon as Lexi is old enough to stomp her feet or fight back. And the earlier you start, the quicker your child will learn. [Again that doesn’t mean that your child won’t throw fits. And it doesn’t mean that your child will learn quickly. Quicker is different than quickly, friend!]
Priority #1: Plan ahead by preparing your child. A two-year-old little boy had a great time playing at my home with some toys the other day. We were going to be leaving soon and his mother informed him that we were leaving soon, and as soon as I was ready to go they would have to leave. This is a great way to help your child start thinking that the fun they are having has a time limit. For an afternoon at the park, it might mean glancing at your watch and realizing you have to leave soon, so you shout out “Hey kids! Just a few more trips down the slide and then we have to go. You’ve got 5 minutes.” You don’t owe this to your kids. They go, when you go. But it is helpful to prepare them, so take the time to try to plan ahead.
Priority #2: You are the authority; obedience is required…. Every time you tell your child it’s time to go, they follow up with a reaction. Many times I’ve seen a child that runs away, fusses, stomps his foot, darts back to the toys with a clenched fist, argues, or whines, in response to the call to leave. If you choose to ignore this behavior and stick around longer, or say “oh, five more minutes won’t hurt” you are telling your child that his behavior deserves more play time. Don’t confuse your kid! You are mom, and if you say it is time to go, any negative response to you is a refusal to submit to your authority. Even if your child is only 2, you can get down right on their eye level, pull them close and say something like this: “Mommy has said that it is time to leave. It is not okay for you to tell mommy no. You are being disrespectful right now.” Or, “God commands you to obey your parents and to honor them. For you to obey and honor me right now, I need you to take my hand and walk to the car.” You don’t need to shout at your kid to do this, and you don’t need to be syrupy sweet. Firmness and serious look as you communicate these things shows the youngest of children that this is a serious matter. I strongly encourage you to take the time to tell your child what she is doing wrong, and what behavior is appropriate. So many parents coax, tease, laugh at, or ignore their child’s clear disobedience. Your child will NOT learn that his behavior is unacceptable unless you teach him otherwise. So make it a priority in your own heart to remember that God has placed you in authority over your child and you are doing her a great disservice if you do not teach her to be obedient to your authority.
***As a side note: Whenever possible, I think it is great to reward correct responses. As my children got the hang of not throwing a fit, sometimes they would ask for one more trip down the slide or a few extra minutes on the swing. If this request was made respectfully and in a pleasant voice, and they were already obeying my call to come, I would always try to reward the correct response with that extra trip down the slide.
Priority #3: THANKFULNESS!! If you leave a friend’s house with your child kicking and screaming about staying to play, you know your friend is going to be gracious. But let’s be honest: It’s rude. It’s disrespectful of your child to throw a fit, sets a bad example to other kids (especially when you reward them for their fit), and a screaming child does not show proper thankfulness for the blessing of being able to play at someone else’s home. Leaving someone’s home should be done graciously, with a “Thank you Mrs. Smith for letting me play today.” We should work on training on children to do so, and correcting them when they don’t. Ultimately, we should work on generating this response by cultivating a thankful heart.
One of the ways I have tried to communicate about thankfulness with my very young children is using the word “treat.” Kids at a very young age understand the concept of a cookie as a “treat.” You eat it, and then it’s over, but it sure was good! So I would often tell my little toddlers when we had to leave (and the frustration was welling up in their fists or eyes), “That was a treat! I’m so glad we had the wonderful treat of playing at the park! Let’s be thankful for our treat even though it’s time to go.” You can even talk about the “treat” before you take it away by coming up to your son and saying “Johnny, this has been such a wonderful day at the park. What a treat! I’m so thankful we got to come. Now it’s time to go so as we leave, let’s have a thankful heart for what we just enjoyed and not make a fuss okay!”
Another phrase I liked to use was “That was fun! And now it’s done!” You can use this with little toddlers as well: with toys, with playdates, with foods. If your one-year-old hears that from you at the end of eating a cookie, and you accompany it with a big smile of pleasure for the treat that was enjoyed, you can start reinforcing at an early age that it’s good to enjoy things and be thankful when it’s time to move on.
Consistently using language like this as opposed to patronizing and mocking phrases like “I know, you are so mistreated” or “I know life is so hard” is going to teach our children so much more about how to handle life than any sarcasm we can dole out on them. Or any threats we can make about leaving them behind. Remember that sarcasm is a coping mechanism for you when you are frustrated or embarrassed by the situation. But sarcasm isn’t a good teaching tool for a toddler. If you consistently use language focused on thankfulness and obedience from a very early age, it helps to reinforce what you expect of your child. Be creative and pick phrases and words that are special in your home. Perhaps “blessing” instead of “treat” or something simple like “Let’s be thankful!” instead of “That was fun and now it’s done.”
It’s hard to enforce these things consistently [let’s be real: my kid just threw a fit while I was typing the last paragraph and I gave in immediately while Dad gave me the look], but at least we know when we mess up that there’s forgiveness from our fellow moms because we’ve all been there and will be there again soon. And there’s forgiveness from the Lord for all our shortcomings as a mom, and there’s grace to try again! And we all know there’ll surely be another time to work on this topic again just around the corner…