Hi! I'm looking for a few new ideas on how to help with this situation:
When it's time to leave friends (kids or adults), my 4 yr old DS starts to hurt them (bump, swat at, push, squeeze, kick) - generally engage in behaviors that he knows he shouldn't be doing and that nobody likes. All mild, but unpleasant and unacceptable. I believe his motivation is that he's frustrated about his lack of control over the situation and he doesn't know what to do with that sensation. He wants to be there longer/play more/continue, but I'm saying it's time to say goodbye and leave. When I try to gently come down to his level and talk to him about it, or say anything else to him during this goodbye period, he resists connection (from ignoring to running out of reach). So, ideas on how to handle this gracefully?
It sounds like you are doing lots of graceful, gentle things and have a lot of insight into your DS's feelings. Perhaps when you are not with others/saying goodbye, periodically bring up the discussions and help him start to develop some alternatives to the behaviors that he's currently using. Some ideas:
--How can you make saying good bye easier for him? Let him know what helps you and have him (if it's comfortable) ask others what works for them. Offer other suggestions like giving a hug, saying "I want to see you again sometime soon", or having a goodbye ritual (like always reading the same book or playing the same game before you leave). See what appeals to him.
--What are some things that are positive to do when he is frustrated? For my DD knowing she can say "I wish we didn't have to leave" and having that validated helps her a lot with frustration. Maybe something like having a "I'm disappointed" song that you and he can sing as your leaving would help. Or coloring materials that he can use in the car or on the bus or train home so that he can express his frustration that way.
My dd has always had a little bit of a rough time with goodbyes. More in the screaming fit category than the hurting category. It's getting much better now at 5.5. In fact, her neighbor friend just left and I was steeling myself for a fit, but she just gave the girl a hug, said thanks for coming over and smoothly transitioned to another activity. At this age, other kids start to notice and seem uncomfortable when another kid has a fit, and it's occurring to her that she's embarrassing herself. That will probably occur to your ds sometime soon too.
But anyway, the best solution I found was to talk about it before the social event starts. If I set the expectations beforehand, it often goes smoothly. If I forget, it usually goes badly. I would say something like, "When it's time to leave Billy's house, let's be kind to Billy and not bump or kick him. I think he'd be really happy to have us back to play another time if we can leave in a happy mood." I'm not sure how GD that sounds when I type it out, but that's probably what I would say. I'm sure you can come up with an even better way to put it. Then if it goes well, reinforce how happy Billy must have been that we were able to leave pleasantly.
edited to fix a typo
We went through a few months of crying as we were leaving- sobbing while saying good-bye, even to people DD had just met, say an hour ago. I think it was similar, a feeling of lack of control. The way that I handled it was to say to her something along the line of, "in 5 minutes we're going to leave. Let's start thinking about xyz that we are going to do next and how we are going to say good-bye here. We can say good-bye to your friend and to her cat, and to the slide and the swing."and then 3 minutes, and 1 minute warning. Then, let's say good-bye. Before the event, I would say (if true) when we would be seeing the person again, and reinforce that a couple of times close to leaving. Focus on what comes next, if what comes next is anything worth focusing on. Either it worked, or she just naturally came out of this phase on her own. I'd love to think it was amazing parenting, but she probably just outgrew it :)
We always do pre-prep when we go somewhere about what we're doing, how long we're staying, what's coming after that, and a reminder that when it's time to go, it's time to go t's not just playdates, it's for errands, etc.) - my kids do SO much better when they know what to expect, *and* what's expected of them. Leaving is difficult when you have no real concept of time, and leaving gracefully is even more difficult. We did 1 and 5 minute warnings, then a "OK, one more time X and let's go!" Sometimes I'd race the kids to the car, sometimes piggyback, whatever it took to make it interesting - I'd give an option of how they wanted to get out the door, but not whether it was time to go or not. Validating the upset is also important too, and reassurance that they will get together again. Sometimes the 6 yo still has a difficult time going, and it feels like herding cats. But, we get it done mostly without a lot of drama or injury to anyone.
Thanks for the support everyone :)
What's working best right now is me remembering to talk about how to handle those feelings before the playdate, and listening to him talk about it when folks are leaving. But it's great to have a bunch of ideas all in one thread!