You're at the park or the mall or wherever you might be, and it's time to go. Your kid stubbornly refuses. After going from reasonable encouragement to tense negotiation to screaming to being past-your-wits'-end, you drop this classic of parent-kid psychological warfare: "Fine, then I'm leaving without you." And you turn on your heels.
The tears come. "Don't leeeeeave meeee!" is yelled, the pitch of it fuelled by true fear. The pitter-patter of tiny feet hauling toddler butt follows.
Don't pull this move any more. Nobody wins. It's unfair to kids and unnecessary, given the right preparation.
"I completely understand why parents resort to it," says Amy Przeworski, an expert in childhood anxiety at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio. But it's not the best parenting strategy. "You're kind of threatening the child with a loss of love, or a loss of caring, or a loss of relationship with the parent, and that is not something that you want to do to a kid," she says.
Robin Alter, a Toronto-based child psychologist, points out that among its many faults, it's also an empty threat, and so "eventually kids stop believing you altogether."
So spare kids the momentary trauma and save yourself the guilt of falling short of Parent of the Year once again.
Lay the foundation, says Przeworski. Let the child know you'll be leaving in 10 minutes. Then follow up with letting them know they get one more slide (for instance, if you're at the park) before it's time to go. That'll help them manage the move. "A lot of kids have trouble with transitions," she says.
Sounds reasonable. But nine times out of 10, in most parent's experience, it doesn't work. Cue the exasperation.
So go to the next level, Przeworski says, and back up the process even further. Przeworski uses a sticker chart with her daughter. She'll tell her before they leave for the park that she can earn a sticker if she's good when it's time to leave. There will also be the promise of a snack in the car. (This builds on the well-known but rarely-practiced principle that patience + snacks can accomplish almost anything.) "Any time you're giving a reward for the good behaviour, it makes it more likely that the child is going to engage in the good behaviour," Przeworski says.