Homegrown with Hope: How to beat the 'post-park meltdown'

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Park season has arrived, parents. That means days of sunshine to burn off your kids' energy and what we can only hope will be deep, peaceful naps ahead. But, an experienced parent knows every time at the park must come to an end. That may leave your little loved ones kicking and screaming, or with tears streaming. To that we say, not this year. In this Homegrown with Hope, I turned to one of my best parenting resources for a life hack to beat the post-park meltdown.

More than 20 years ago, longtime on-air talent at KFYR-TV Cliff Naylor filed a report he likely never thought would be broadcast across your TV. In a home video, Cliff explained his "Parade of Parks," the game he concocted to keep playtime fun.

"I loved to take the kids to the park and it always ended badly," he laughed.

The integral component to the Parade of Parks is an egg timer.

"It was just sitting there on the stove and I thought, kids are fascinated by time! I thought, well, if we pre-set the rules and say we're going to be at each park for 12 minutes and to race and get as much fun out of that 12 minutes as possible, when the timer dings and we're ready to go, there's going to be no drama. And it worked!"

The concept is simple: every kid chooses a park. It gives them some buy-in to your plan. Then, it's 12 minutes at each park, a treat at the end, then pack it into the car for the next stop.

"At the end of the day," Cliff explained, "you still spend about an hour, but everybody's happy at the end."

Experts say Cliff was onto something there.

"Kids don't understand what two minutes means, or what five minutes means. So it's really using a visual to help them," said Sara Erickson, occupational therapist at Red Door Pediatric Therapy.

She says most kids tend to be visual learners. So, whether it's an egg timer you use, or pictures, or an hourglass, you can help them see time going away. In turn, that should help you get the kids to follow a schedule.

She shares some other tips to help families transition from one fun activity to the next, including what her office calls "social stories."

"It's just kind of a story that we make up and we add pictures. It's fun and the kids get to help with it. It goes over those expectations," said Erickson.

She also suggests using simple language cues, like 'first' and 'then.' And, she recommends preparing your child when you're going somewhere you think may trigger a meltdown, like the grocery store. Talk to the child about what they might see or feel when in a crowded business. Give them ideas of ways to cope, like drawing or hugging a stuffed animal.

Cathryn Spryncynatyk, a mom of two and soon to be three, says lessons like these have saved her many times.

"It helps to have an incentive if you're going to do something fun next or if they're really hungry. But, one thing I do really consistently is that I set a timer on my cell phone," said Spryncynatyk.

The cell phone may now be the modern version of the egg timer, but it works just the same. After getting her four- and five-year-olds on board with the rules of the game, she's taking the practice to swimming lessons, too.

"Every week, twice a week, we are practicing the concept of, they get to play, but when the timer goes off, then it's time go home."