‘It’s time to go now!’ – How to Prevent Tears and Help Transition

Two little girls playing outside hutongEveryone was laughing and having fun, the children had been playing beautifully for hours, you had agreed to play ‘hide and seek’ a gazillion times and you were enjoying the shared moment of happiness ‘en famille’. But then…you said the dreaded phrase that can send the best mood tumbling down and the happiest child into total meltdown with tears and screams.

You said:

“It’s time to go home now!”

“No!   No!   Noooo…….!”

“Oh yes it is! “

(…etc, you know how it goes don’t you?)


The fact is:  it is time to go home, and the child will have to follow you, no matter what (well…eventually…).

But things are not looking smooth as your child has now dropped to the floor in floods of tears…So you feel terrible, because up until now everything was going really well and you didn’t expect this reaction. You may even feel a little annoyed for not being the super cool ‘in control’ parent you were a minute ago. You might even loose your temper a little and raise your voice to hustle everyone along a little briskly. “Come on now, let’s go!” As if that was going to help.

And to make matters worse, the neighbour’s child is complying and walking home without a complaint. I remember feeling a little embarrassed and envious myself watching other children saying goodbye nicely and going home without being told twice…pondering more than once how their parents had achieved that and what I was doing wrong…

No one really likes to end something that is fun (when was the last time you jumped happily away from a great book when someone called you?). Children like it even less, especially since they have little control over their time table and may resist from time to time with a defiant attitude or tears. To keep the Positive into Parenting and make you want to play with your children again and again, here are a few tried and tested suggestions to ease children into smooth transitioning:

– Use Empathy: we feel better when we feel understood. Connect with your child and show that you understand that he is upset. Bend down to eye level, hug him if he lets you. Say:

“You like playing hide and seek don’t you? Me too, that was so much fun! You’d like to play longer, I understand, me too and now my watch says it is time to go home. Would you like to play again tomorrow?”

If need be, follow this with a small choice that suits your time table and the situation. “Would you like to have a bath or help me prepare dinner first?”

If the child was playing with a friend, show interest in their game before interrupting it. Admire what they have built, compliment them on their game or their creativity and then tell them it tis time to end the game. By connecting with the child first and going into her world, you help her want to follow you into the next activity.

It is that sense of being understood, loved and connected to a parent that becomes the driving force for all children to want to cooperate.

– Give time warnings: 10 minutes and then 5 minutes warning will help children get their mind around the coming change of activity.

– Put the child in charge of keeping an eye on the clock. Children will comply more easily if they have some control over the situation and love to be trusted with small responsibilities. If the child is not old enough to have a watch, you could show them your watch: “When the tall hand is pointing at the number 12 at the top, it will be time to go inside”.

– Say it is time and mean it! Children get confused if our actions don’t match our words. They learn quickly that words are just words and they learn to ignore what we say. If the child realises that his tears can make you change your mind and that you will allow more playtime  he will use that strategy again and cry every time until he gets what he wants. Stop playing, look at them, tell them once.

– Use a kind and firm tone of voice and clear body language. Start gathering the belongings and moving towards the house with an encouraging smile and a wink. “I’ll race you!”

– Give small choices: Offer small choices that will give the child a sense of power. No one likes to be told what to do all the time and children can react to that particularly if they are tired or hungry. “It is time to go home now. Would you like to chase me or shall I chase you? Shall we walk backwards or sideways like little crabs?”

– Use fewer words: Often children don’t listen to us because we talk too much. When they ask: “Why” and you embark on a long explanation, they have succeeded in gaining a few more minutes of play time…

– Use humour: “You said no? Ooo I am going to have to catch you and eat you up with kisses!” Catch him, kiss him and carry him to the house.

– Use distraction: “I am going to close my eyes. Can you guide me to the door?” Play the silly floppy parent that trips and pretends to loose balance and bump into things. It is not supposed to be another long game so aim for the door and yes, you can peek through your eye lashes 😉

– Anticipate: be aware of the physical state of the child. Hungry and tired children do not cooperate easily. If you see any sign of it, interrupt the game a little earlier, even if it looks like everyone could continue to play for hours.

– Create an agreement: when everyone is calm again, talk about the next playtime and how we could avoid the tears. Agree that:  “We would all like to play forever but there are times when we have to stop and that it is not very pleasant if there are tears and screams. Can we agree that when it is time we all stop and do what we have to do? Without making a big fuss?”

Playing, laughing together and being hugged when emotions are difficult to handle give children the sense of security they need.

With the Summer holidays come many opportunities to play and to say ‘It’s time to go home now’. This time you should be well equipped with a variety of tools to allow for a happy ending to an hour of fun. My favourite tools are Empathy and Giving small choices. What are yours?

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