May 22, 2017
Playdate meltdowns are never fun. When I was a little girl, I idolized my older cousins. I still remember what it felt like to go over to their house for playdates, holidays, and special occasions. Jumping endlessly on their trampoline. A massive array of new toys to play with. Learning what “big girls” do. I relished my time with them.
As the event would draw to an end, all the food eaten, all the games played, and all the children tired, my parents would utter the impending words of doom. You might be familiar with them…
“Kids, 5 more minutes!”
Not 3 seconds would pass before the waling would begin. The pleading, begging, and negotiating for more time. Depending on the level of fatigue, sometimes the subversive “I didn’t hear you, so obviously we can just keep playing as long as we want” route was attempted.
But, to no avail. We would get scooped up and pushed towards the door. Then, the crying would begin. The real playdate meltdown of sadness, despair, and defeat.
At some point, my parents must have grown tired of this. I was the oldest of their four children and leading the charge in these post-playdate meltdowns.
Among the chaos I was creating, I vividly remember my mom leaning over me, looking me in the eyes, and teaching me the words that would soon end the madness:
“Danielle, we come happy and we go happy.”
These simple words present a powerful lesson for young children. Most 3 year olds can begin to understand this concept. The sooner you start teaching it, the sooner it will become habitual.
First, this rule makes children reflect on more than their momentary-sadness.
Developmentally, young children are in the beginning stages of learning how to regulate their feelings. We have to teach children that meltdowns are not appropriate just because they feel sad about going home. Asking them, “Do you remember how happy you were when we came?” helps their memory recall that positive emotion. “Do you remember how much fun you had playing together today?” We need to help their little minds paint the picture of how happy and excited they were just a few minutes ago.
Second, it sets a standard rule for treating hosts and friends with manners, specifically gratitude and respect. Children need to understand they are expected to harness the positive, happy emotion we are helping them recall, and use it to politely thank others for the good time they shared. Manners from a young age are important.
Third, it serves as both reassurance and a mild warning. You strive to give your children amazing, positive experiences, and it is necessary to have age-appropriate behavioral expectations of them. Children need to understand these expectations.
With the “come happy, go happy” rule, you are giving your children a basic choice: if we can come AND go happy, we will keep coming. But if you don’t meet the appropriate expectation of harnessing your positive-emotions to have a polite and respectful farewell, we won’t come and play again until you can learn this important skill. Show your children the “come happy, go happy” rule is good for them, and it’s good for everyone.
Like many rules you teach your child, the “come happy, go happy” rule is a process. I remember having that conversation with my mom, trying to hold back big sad tears, and whispering a thank you to my aunt for the nice time. It was by no means an extraordinary display of gratitude, but it was a start. Over time, as this behavior became the standard expectation in my family, we would rise to the occasion. Instead of leading the farewell tantrum, the “come happy, go happy” rule became our family ritual.
Now that I have my own nephew and niece, I’ve experienced the post-playdate meltdowns from the other side. I see my nephew’s eyes light up as he sees the massive array of my childhood toys. He likes them just as much as I did. I love his giggles of delight jumping on our trampoline for hours. I love watching him play with my husband.
A few weeks ago, as our time came to an end, my nephew’s tears began to roll. Deciding he was ready for it, I scooped him up in my arms, and we had a discussion about why we come happy and go happy. We talked about all the fun we had together and all the fun we can have next time. We talked about goodbye manners and why they are important. Even though he was still sad, you could see this new lesson starting to click.
As you get ready for a deluge of playdates with family and friends this summer, it’s a good idea to sit your children down and share these magic words: “We come happy and we go happy.” Lay out your expectations before you arrive at the playdate, and whisper a quick reminder to your children as you give them their 5-minute warning. Playdates will be a lot more fun for everyone involved without the meltdown at the end.
Author: Dani Stringer, MSN, CPNP, PMHS – founder of KidNurse and MomNurse Academy