7 Ways to Get Kids to Leave a Place They Don't Want to Leave

Don't end on a bad note.

Posted Mar 30, 2016

It's great fun to take young kids to fun places such as the pool, the park, the children’s museum, or a whole gym full of bouncy houses. But what about when they don’t want to leave? We don’t want to raise our voices after we’ve just had the time of our lives. We don’t want to end on a bad note. However, when kids are having a truly great time, the transition away from an activity can be a real challenge.

Here are 7 ideas to help make the endings of a fun time just as sweet as the beginnings.

1. Discuss the rules before you arrive.

As you’re driving to the very fun place you’re going, ask kids to describe the rules for when you’re there. One of the rules could be, “When I say it’s time to go, we all have to go right away, even if we don’t want to. Does everyone agree? That means, we’ll stop what we’re doing, even if we’re having a lot of fun, and we’ll go put our shoes on. Then we’ll go potty and wash our hands.” You can go further by making it into a game, saying, “What if you’re doing something you really love doing like going down the fire pole and you don’t want to go at all and I say it’s time to leave?” Then kids will probably shout, “Go anyway!”

2. Let your kids pick a fun way to leave.

Giving kids ownership as to how you leave invites cooperation and brings their attention toward the transition process. You might say, “Okay, we’re going to have a code word that I’m going to say when it’s time to go and then when you hear that word, we’re going to run toward the nearest door. What do you want the code word to be? The code word is ‘frog legs.’ What are we going to do when we hear ‘frog legs?’ again? We’ll leave nicely. We’ll hop all the way to our car, just like froggies! Should we practice?”

3. Leave 15 minutes earlier than you normally would.

If you are having a delightful time with your kids, or watching them smiling, laughing, exploring, or learning, it may be hard for you to leave a place too. However, being disciplined and leaving while you’re still having fun preserves a positive memory for everyone. It will be 15 minutes earlier to get to nap time or snack time. 15 minutes is often the deciding factor between a smooth transition and a colossal meltdown.

4. Give an early warning.

Certain kids appreciate warnings, such as, “5 more minutes!” “You can do one last thing,” or “last call!” Other kids may feel anxious when you say these things. It depends on your kid.

5. Add a ritual.

Adding a ritual to the end of a super time adds consistency and calming to the transition. You might have young tots say, “Bye park, see you tomorrow!” and get a drink from the drinking fountain. You might give older kids the exact same favorite snack – such as a dried fruit bar or an apple – every single time you leave somewhere like the zoo. Other rituals are letting them take a photo of a favorite thing they saw or did, identifying one thing they just did that they want to tell Grandma or Grandpa about, or naming one thing they want to do when they come back next time.

6. Give them a job for the way home.

Giving young children jobs to do on the drive home motivates them to get in the car and go. “Sally, you get to pick the music today – we can listen to rock and roll or Sesame Street songs. Clare, I want you to put your hand on the ceiling when everyone is buckled in. Jim, I want you to be the flag detective and look out the window to count the flags on the way home. Ann, I want you to pass out the water bottles to everyone when we get in the car. Carrie, you can choose if you want the temperature to be hot or cold in the car.”

7. Ask children for ideas.

If your child has a hard time with transitions, sit down and ask them about what’s hard for them about leaving a certain place, like the splash pad or the nature center. Ask them if they have any ideas of ways you could make it easier for them. “I know we have such a great time at the library, but sometimes you get sad when it’s time to go home. Do you have any ideas about how this time we could go home nicely and quickly? What can I do to help you with that?”

Child Trends reports that parental warmth is linked to diverse positive outcomes including higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems. Being proactive and gentle with children when leaving a fun place helps build a strong, trusting, and warm relationship. 

Erin Leyba, author of the forthcoming book Joy Fixes for Weary Parents (2017), is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs: www.erinleyba.com. Sign up for blog updates at www.thejoyfix.com or follow her on Facebook.

Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD