One of the great things about summer and school being out is being able to take your kids on more outings. Some parents, however, find getting their kids to leave the beach, the zoo, the park—or wherever you have decided to go—without tears and tantrums so challenging, that they would rather stay home.
Don’t stay home! That would be a real shame. There is so much benefit to family time in the outdoors that every effort should be made to prioritize it.
Here are some ways to assure that you come home as happy as when you left.
Set the Expectations for Leaving the Park (the beach, the zoo, etc.) Before You Leave the House.
Let your kids know that you are eager to take them places and to do nice things with them, but that if it is going to be worth it to take the family out, the family has to be able to leave the park peacefully and on time. Take the time to talk to the kids about what makes it hard to leave places where they have been having a nice time. Maybe go back to the last outing you had and help them remember. Perhaps they met a new friend. Perhaps they were in the middle of a game and were about to win. Perhaps they were working on some goal—like how far out they could jump off the spring and they didn’t want to go until they had reached their maximum. Perhaps they just didn’t want to leave sunshine and play for the relative work of going home and setting the table and taking baths. If they either struggle to identify why it is hard to leave or what would make it easier, share your own feelings and experiences (Who wants to go home to one more load of laundry when you are having a nice time?!). You can also be the Voice of Reason and share that in your observation, that when you stay too long and get overtired, it makes coming home much harder.
Work Out with Your Kids What Kind of Warnings/Leaving Rituals They Will Need
Once the kids have remembered and acknowledged the feelings they had the last outing, then have the children brainstorm what would make it easier for them to leave. The children of one family I worked with decided they wanted to be reminded what the consequences would be for not leaving on time (including ramifications like fewer books at bedtime), they wanted a 15 minute warning before leaving, a five minute warning to wrap up what they were doing, and one reminder of the consequence of not following directions before they got in trouble.
Parents with a three and five year old were frustrated because their three year old would immediately start to run to the other end of the park as soon as they gave a warning. Not only did this make it hard to leave, but they feared she would keep running straight into the parking lot or even the street. I suggested training the kids with a game of Red Light, Green Light. I had them practice by calling out randomly (and excitedly), “Red light!” The kids were to stop what they were doing. When the parents called, “Green light,” they would run to their parents as fast as they could. The parents might call out Red Light a few times before they got to them to increase the tension, and when they did get to them there were lots of hugs and kisses. If the kids asked, “What do you want?”, the parents would say, “I just couldn’t go one more moment without a Zoe kiss and without an Ally kiss.” Even when the girls begged, the parents would not declare a winner. If the girls started saying, “I won,” for getting to their parents faster, Mom and Dad would just start to kiss and hug them more vigorously. If one of the girls didn’t drop what they were doing, the parents would go into full drama mode and act as if they were going to die if they didn’t get a hug that moment. In this way, coming when called was massively fun. After establishing this game at home, it was easy when it was time to leave the park to shout out, “Red light!”, and have the girls come running. Knowing they were going to get lots of hugs and kisses and giggles took away the sting of leaving the swing or the slide or new friend.
Let Your Kids Know in Advance What the Consequences Will Be for Not Cooperating and Then Follow Through 100% on the Consequence You Have Promised.
Keeping things light and warm is always preferred, but some kids need the clarity of a consequence to motivate them to leave something pleasant. If just talking about the need for cooperation does not work for your kids, have them brainstorm with you what the consequence is going to be for not being responsive to the needs of the family ahead of time. Be sure it is a consequence that doesn’t punish the other children. If you are going out for a few hours in the morning, you might announce the ways in which afternoon activities will be limited if kids don’t listen and follow directions. If you are coming home towards dinner, however, chances are you’ll be focused on dinner and bed so there isn’t much room to restrict something. With school-aged children, you can put it off the consequence until the next outing (the younger the child, the sooner you have to plan the next outing) and have the consequence be something like either having a Time-In with a parent while the other kids get to go play or even missing the next outing entirely. Your aim is to use the minimum consequence needed to have an impact on improving your child’s behavior—not to shame or punish. With little children, what is great about techniques like Red Light, Green Light is that you can use them before you need to leave. If the children are responsive, you can say, “Wow! You did such a great job of coming quickly, you can go play 10 more minutes.” If one of the children did not come running, she can have a Time-In while the others play. Keep that child close, give extra hugs and assure her that you know she’ll make a good choice next time.
Of course, it make take a few times to work out the right consequences for your family and for your kids to trust that you mean business, but before long, you should be able to have lovely family outings that end with happy smiles and good memories of the day.
Happy First Day of Summer!