AJ had never, ever left a park on his own two feet. You know that mom who has to drag her kid out of the park, and he is screaming so loud that all the other parents kind of pretend not to stare but are actually staring, and the mom feels mortified and awful and judged and like the worse parent ever? That was AJ and his parents every time they went to the park. l
Until it wasn’t.
AJ was on the climbing wall, and the sun was setting and it was getting to be time to go home. Three more minutes, his dad sang. Three more minutes, he repeated back in the same sing song voice. Two more minutes, his dad sang and he echoed. One more minute, his dad sang. One more minute, he sang back as he played. And then it was time to go. All done park, his dad chanted with him. The chant wasn’t over yet, though. Together, they sang I’m leaving to the car in 5-4-3-2-1. AJ took his dad’s hand, and his mom walked alongside them, and together the trio sang Time to go in our car and then its time for driving, over and over and over again until they got into the car. AJ walked the whole way.
This may seem simple enough, but AJ was eight and AJ had been to a lot of parks, and really, truly, this was the very first time AJ left without being dragged, kicking and screaming, from the park. This was the first time AJ’s parents weren’t mortified to the point of wanting to cry themselves as soon as they got into the car. So what was important about this time? What was different?
They primed him: Not the cursory “we’re leaving in five, kid” that you hear all the parents say *because that’s what you’re supposed to do,* this was real. It was meaningful. It was sing-songy, and AJ did it with his parents. They didn’t shout it over their shoulders so that later they could throw their hands up and say, well, I did give him a warning. They sang it right to him, and he sang it right back.
They shared control: When it was time to go, AJ’s parents shared the control with him. Together, they counted down from five, and they waited for him to be fully present with them, and they were fully present with him. They sang together. They didn’t order him around. They allowed him to participate in being about to leave, and getting ready to leave.
It was a shared experience: From the time that there were five more minutes, it was a shared experience between AJ and his dad. They looked at each other. They sang to each other. They waited for each other. They were doing something together. It’s critical that AJ’s parents were with him in these moments, really, actually with him. They helped him sing and count, and they counted and sang themselves, not because they were doing it for him, but because they were sharing the experience with him.
And that folks, is how its done. OK, ok, we all know it’s not easy. But it is possible.
This is a true story from a Positive Parenthood family.