How Do You Leave the Playground

Kids need to get out of the house. Out, to the park or playground.  Out, to get all their energy out.  Out.  It’s nice to get out.

Except, most of the time, it’s not enough.  They want more swing, more slide, more playground.  Slide again, please.  No, stay.

Once in possession of a playground or friend’s house or pool, what does not make sense in a child’s mind is the pressing need to leave said amazing place.  Why would you ever leave a fun place? And this is grounds enough of course, if no one else is doing anything about it, to make a scene, to “throw a fit”.

Why aren’t our children happy to pick up and leave when we say it’s time?

The problem lies with us and them – there’s shared blame here.

Children are people, and people have big problems with contentment.  Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Now, the innocence of a child’s thirst for the abiding sense of glory and adventure that seemingly only a playground can provide – this is good!  But we are not in Eden.  We have to wait for things.  We have to grow up.  We have to learn patience and contentment with homes and beds and errands away from slides and swings.  If we are discontent aright, it is because our souls desire that which this world cannot provide.  But we must wait for the Lord, and this should begin in childhood.

Leaving the playground is a time for learning.  Here’s some examples of good character-informing exchanges between parent and child upon playground departure:

– “I’m going to leave you here”

– “ok, goodbye!” (as they walk away, pretending to leave the child there)

– “we are never going to this place again if…”

– “for once in your life, listen!”

– “i’m counting to three…one, two, three” (no action following this)

– “common, honey, it’s time to go…” (not actually leaving)

These words lack efficacy, most obviously because they fail to result in a playground departure in less than ten minutes!

These words lack integrity, because one – you aren’t actually going to abandon them on the playground, and two – nothing is going to happen after you count to three.

The words come from our mouths when we lack the strength, wisdom, and honesty to give our kids the privilege of straight and dependable expectations.  This destroys young character.

But I understand first-hand how difficult playground departure can be!  We feel desperate, and in our desperation we say some pretty awful things and do pretty much nothing.

So how do we do it? How do we act?

Here are three steps to successful playground departure:

1. Give warning before you take action. However you want to do this, give your kids a warning that it will be time to go soon.  You can give them a number of minutes, set a timer that goes off so they know it indeed has been 5 minutes, or discuss the other things on their agenda for that day.  This way your child can be prepared for the cold, hard fact of imminent departure before you actually have to go. They can fit in all the stuff they want to do before leaving and not feel panicked or surprised.

2. Tell your child directly that YOU BOTH are leaving now. Do not sound unsure and do not phrase this as a question. One of our biggest mistake as parents is phrasing expectations or requirements as questions. “Are you ready to go now?” is what we say. What we mean is – “we have to leave now”. What do our kids hear? Well, they hear what we say. And they respond with, “no.” And then we think, well, shoot. What do I do now?

Do not put yourself in this position. Tell your child it is time to go now, and they need to come quickly and obey. Obedience, or listening to what your parents tell you and responding with appropriate action, should be quick and cheerful. I know this isn’t always true, but this is what we should be striving for in our children. And it’s easier to obey as a son or daughter, when you know what your mom means/wants and when she is loving you as she tells you what she expects.

You are in charge and what you say goes. That does not mean refuse extension of grace or that we do not listen to our babies’ feelings. It’s difficult for a little one to stop doing what they love. Sympathize and explain the reasoning, but do not shy away from what you have said.

3. Leave! sounds simple, right? Sack up!  Okay, it’s not that simple.  But this third step is crucial. Obviously. You have somewhere to be; do what you have said you will do. Ask your child to come, in a calm, loving, but authoritative voice so they know you are not angry, but that you are also not joking. This can manifest itself in many different ways, dependent on your child and the day.  No matter what reaction you receive, you must leave with them. Your child may run away from you, they may scream at you, they may hide, they may beg and plead to go down the slide one more time.  The possibilities of evading capture are endless. You need to prepare yourself to be true to your word no matter the cost. Disciplinary action may be required, or you may need to just pick up your child and carry him to the car crying the whole way. That’s OK. As you show him again and again that you are serious about leaving, they will pick up on it and be apt to expectations for departure in the future.

Side note – giving our kids some wiggle-room or grace is always helpful. I think as parents we want to help our kids out.  Sometimes this means we spoil them and sometimes it means we are quick to look the other way when they are disobeying. We don’t want that, but it is a beautiful thing to be the biggest advocate for your child.

I loved to let my kiddos (the kids I have nannied for) have little victories at the playscape. For example, I’d tell my sweet boy that it was time to leave in 5 minutes. After five minutes I’d say, OK it’s just about time to go. But would you like to go down the slide one more time?! And his face would light up, thrilled that he had one more chance to do something fun before we left. After that I was very careful to get him and take him home immediately, and he rarely ever threw a fit about leaving.

Sometimes just hugging your kid before you go and talking with them about what a fun time that was is enough. I would whisper in my charge’s ear, “do you want to come to this playground another day?!” And he would be giddy about the possibility of having fun again.

So whether you are at a playdate or a playground, remember to stick to what you say when it’s time to go. Giving a little grace is awesome, but letting your child be the boss of your schedule is not.

God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. He pardons all our sins and renews his mercy towards us every morning. God tells us the truth, but never makes false threats. God disciplines yet never abuses or harms with words. He clearly shows us his expectations for us and never goes back on his promises. He is fair.

May we all treat our children a little bit more each day the way that God treats us.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  C. S. Lewis