How to leave somewhere…with kids

Five Minutes Cartoon

If you bring your young kids somewhere, and it comes time to leave and your kids are having fun, how do you get out the door gracefully without upsetting the kids? Some parents give their kids a warning that they’re about to leave in 5 (or whatever number) of minutes, to give the kids a chance to adjust. I’ve tried this too, but never found it to have much of a positive effect.

Here’s what I’ve been doing recently that seems to work better.

1. Don’t warn the kids.

Instead of giving the kids a warning, just tell them when it’s time to start leaving. This might sound a bit abrupt, but it’s really not. There are shoes, coats, etc. to put on. The whole getting-out-the-door process takes a while.

Also, it’s not like children use that five minutes to wrap up any business they have. In fact they tend to just scramble to pull out more toys or games or get into whatever new stuff they want to try before leaving. If you just tell them it’s time to leave, then they don’t have time to get into any new trouble.

You might say this is a bit cruel, to just spring the departure on the kids, but I don’t think so. In a way, giving the kids a warning is cruel — is drives home the message that they must act now! Time is a limited resource! Isn’t it better to just assume there will be a natural transition into the next phase of the day rather than making it into a “big thing”?

2. Hustle them along.

When the kids don’t want to leave yet, I’ve found it’s best to just hustle them along. Once the decision to leave has been made, all energies can and should be directed towards leaving. It’s best not to let this drag out with arguments or negotiations. You sort of just run the kids through the gauntlet of getting socks and shoes and coats and hats and whatevers on and get them out the door. This is more about having focus as a parent on keeping things moving. Make sure you say your own goodbyes before starting this process with the kids, so you can keep the train moving.

Sometimes the kids don’t want to leave, and they start throwing a tantrum. This doesn’t happen all the time, and I haven’t found that warning the children in advance about departure really makes a tantrum any less likely. When a tantrum does happen it’s best not to let things develop into a stand off, where you find yourself saying “if you don’t get your shoes on now, you’re going to get [such-and-such punishment].” I basically just try to ignore any fuss and get ’em out the door. They’re usually cool once they get moving.

Overall I think the idea of giving people a warning before leaving makes sense for adults, because usually adults have things we want to do before leaving, such as saying goodbye to people or drinking the last of our beer. But kids haven’t really got that 5 minutes of things-to-do-before-we-leave mentality. For kids there are only two states: playing and not playing. I don’t believe the early warning system does much other than to increase stress for the kids (and therefore for the parents too).

I’d be curious if anyone else has tried both approaches and noticed a clear benefit to the kids from providing an early warning. [1]

[1] There may be some benefit to the parents of warning the kids before leaving. It might just be an easy way for parents to announce to the other parents and kids that the family caravan is leaving soon.

2 Responses to “How to leave somewhere…with kids”

  1. Blighty
    June 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Brilliant analysis of this issue – one I have struggled with so often! To this day I use the 5 minute warning approach but you are right, it never makes it easier, so why am I doing it! I totally agree that the key is to get them out the door FAST. Really like your parenting tips.

    • Pierre Bastien
      June 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

      Thanks Blighty!