My 3-year-old son is well-behaved when we're at other people's houses. He plays nicely and puts toys away when he's done with them. Then, when it's time to leave, he has a meltdown. I've tried warning him that we're going to leave (in 10 minutes, in five minutes, etc.) But he still gets so upset. What should I do?
Menon in Sunnyvale
Plan some fun activities or games he can do once he gets back home. Then remind him of those before he refuses to leave the friend's house. That way he'll be distracted, and you can avoid meltdowns.
Heidi in Kurtztown
Buy him a child's watch. When you get somewhere explain to him how long you'll be there; show him where the hands will be when it will be time to leave. Make it his job to let you know when it's time to go. That way he feels important, it takes his mind off the unpleasantness of leaving and you're teaching him at the same time!
Lauren in Danbury
When the 3-year-old preschoolers I teach have a hard time leaving what they're doing, I play the "clean-up" game. The objective is to distract them from their opposition to leaving by making a contest of who can clean up quicker. I assign them different types of toys to clean up and reward them with stickers for doing a good job.
Tracee in Jacksonville
I have had the same problem with my 3-year-old. One thing that helps is having the child he's playing with escort him to the car.
Rae in Ripley
My son hates to leave, too, but we got him into a routine that works: If he's at church or at someone's house, he goes around telling everyone that he'll see them later. This reminds him that it's not a permanent situation. If he cries or gets upset, I remind him that we might not come back as soon. He's got to go on his own and with a good attitude.
Kenneth N. Condrell, Ph.D.
Here are some points that are important for you to keep in mind as the parent of a 3-year-old:
1. Your son's behavior is normal for his age.
2. Learning to tolerate frustration is a lesson that every preschooler must learn.
3. It's not harmful for a young child to experience meltdowns. That's how he gradually learns to tolerate frustration.
I like the way you're helping your son deal with giving up one activity for another. We call this making a transition. Informing a child ahead of time that a change is coming, like you are doing, is a highly recommended strategy. However, sometimes it doesn't work.
Why not? Because 3-year-olds are still very much like 2-year-olds. They hate giving up fun activities. Consequently, you may still have to carry your son to the car while he cries and protests. As a parent, you can be fair, just, supportive and understanding about this. But you must let him know that you are the parent.
Here's a strategy you might want to try. The next time you arrive at one of your friend's homes, kneel down, look you son in the eyes, touch his shoulder and explain that when it's time to leave, you expect him to be a big boy who cooperates with you.
Tell him that you understand that it's not easy to leave places where you're having fun. That's why you will give him a special treat if he walks to the car like a big boy and gets in his car seat. The special treat could be a juice box, a cookie or something that he really enjoys. I know this sounds like bribery, but young children need to be inspired to assert their self-control if they are ever going to be able to make transitions without falling apart.
Another idea is to praise your son at home every time he makes a transition without a meltdown. This is called catching him when he's good. It's a powerful strategy for teaching children to behave in a more grown-up manner. I hope my ideas help.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.