Parenting in Public – At the Park (Part 2) – Leaving

As a parent of two boys less than two years apart, both under the age of 5, I often find myself putting out fires in public, scrambling to get home before either has another meltdown. Having tried and tested the textbook techniques on my little ones, I thought I would begin a series of blog posts on techniques that actually work and don’t. So here is the second part of the series, “Parenting in Public.”

Convincing our children to leave the park is probably a battle we are all familiar with. Imagine being in your favorite store and being constantly rushed by your partner, it’s got to be annoying! It’s similar for kids, playgrounds are their happy place and they’re not bound by time constraints like we are.

  • Time warnings

I usually plan for us to spend enough time in the playground such that they have had their fill yet they aren’t tired (or hungry) to the point that they are likely to have a tantrum. I give them time warnings starting at ten minutes, then again at five, and two. At one minute left, I don’t address them directly (to avoid negotiations) but start gathering our things so they know I am ready to leave. It’s important to stick to the time frame we give them because children soon begin to tell the difference between 10 and 15 minutes, or 5 and 10 minutes etc. I allow them to finish whatever it is that they were doing, come down the slide one last time, or finish the conversation with their friend and wait for them by the exit. The kids are so accustomed to this now that I rarely get resistance.

  • Dealing with the whining

If sometimes, the whining does begin, I blame my watch. I just look down at it, make a disappointed face and say something like, “I wish we could stay, we are all having so much fun but it’s time to leave now, next time we will try to come for longer.” And with that, I begin walking.

  •  Empty threats

I don’t feel comfortable giving empty threats: saying that I will leave and they had better just come right away. They don’t respond well to that because it becomes a power struggle. They trust us to protect them so threatening to leave them there, undermines that faith they put in us. They will also eventually learn that I am not really going to leave them and they will no longer believe what I say

  • Shifting the focus

I find it helpful to tell them what we are planning to do next and try to make it somewhat attractive so that they have something to look forward to. For example, if we have to do groceries, I entice them by reminding them that they can watch the skating along the way or tell them that they can push the cart in the store. Anything that would make a mundane task mildly interesting to them, and leaving the park less painful!

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. 

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Sara Zaidi

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