Parenting in Public – Trying to leave

Parenting in Public – Trying to leave by Sara Zaidi, A child therapist

It’s always a struggle getting kids to leave when they are having fun. They aren’t bound by time constraints like adults and this can result in a battle.

  • Saying the right thing when you’re ready to leave

Before we arrive wherever it is that we are going, I remind the children what time we have to leave i.e. after lunch or before nap etc. Once that time comes, I walk over to them, ask them what they are doing and then say, “it looks like you’re having fun, play for a little bit longer and then start wrapping up when you’re ready, we just have a few more minutes left.” They are more likely to listen when I walk over to them and they know that I understand how involved they are, as opposed to yelling it across from a room when they will either choose to ignore me or yell back, saying that they don’t want to leave yet. Allowing them to “wrap up when they are ready” gives them some sense of control and they are less likely to protest when its time to leave. I also remind them of what we have planned next so they have something to look forward to.

  • Time warnings

Next, I give them three time warnings – at ten minutes, five minutes and two minutes. At one minute I begin packing our things, putting on my coat etc. At the five minute mark I ask them to begin finishing up whatever it is that they are doing. It’s essential to allow children to complete whatever task they are in the middle before asking them to leave. It’s difficult for them to disengage because they don’t have the same sense of time and responsibility that we do.

  • Incorporating clean up in their play

If the children are having a hard time putting things away or disengaging, I incorporate the departure in their play. For example, if one is playing with trucks or cars, I tell him to park them in the right spot for the night so they can also rest. Sometimes they don’t want another child touching their things, so I ask them to give it to the teacher to hold it for them or put it on a higher shelf until next time. (It’s easier to do this than to get in to an argument over why it’s okay for other children to play with it– that’s a discussion for another time).

  • Modeling behavior

I ask them to thank the hosts, give a hug and say goodbye. If they are reluctant I model behavior for them and we have the “how-to-be-polite” discussion on our way home! The travails of parenthood!


Sara Zaidi is a child therapist and the creator of Building Healthy Minds and Happy Families. With advanced degrees in psychology and mental health and over ten years of clinical experience, Sara helps parents navigate through the challenging early stages of their children’s lives by explaining the cognitive, emotional and social development of children from a neurological and behavioral perspective. Read her parenting blog at and visit to learn more about her work.