Handling the Workload

Hi Sharon,
I have two children, 2 and 4. My four year old is beyond active. He’s a full time job and when I’m in the park or at a playground with them, he’s always taking off lickety split and running out of the secured area. I’m going crazy! Any suggestions for how I can manage both of them at the same time in an outdoor setting? I’ve run out of patience and just feel like crying.
Overworked parent

Dear overworked parent,

My best wishes are extended to all parents juggling two young children at the same time; it is rarely easy. A four-year-old’s boundless enthusiasm is often a hard thing for an adult to keep up with, especially when a two year old who needs to be carefully monitored is close by. Rest assured, it is possible for outdoor play with both children to go well but it is probably going to take some thought and organization before you leave for your excursion. Boredom may be a factor for your four year old. If the park or playground you choose has things that hold his interest it will help but even so you may need to bring extra excitement with you. Sidewalk chalk, vehicles to ride, balls, bubbles or art supplies all could make a difference.

Even with extra activities, often the ideal way to hold your son’s interest is to give him someone to play with.

This probably means going to the playground or park with some company if at all possible. You, another adult or a child friend are all good choices. If you have another adult with you it will give you a chance to run or play with your son while someone else keeps his or her eye on your two-year-old. Or it can give you some nice playtime with your little one without being distracted by his older brother.

This person could be a friend, relative or even a teenage helper who can offer a smiling face and an extra set of hands and eyes. If you can arrange for a four-year-old friend to come along it could be more work for you but it can also relieve boredom and help your son figure out fun things to play in the confined area.

The more people you know the easier it is to set up play dates and arrange outdoor excursions with lots of people involved. This could be a good time to get to know as many people as you can. A good place to start might be the park or playground you mentioned. It is very possible that there are other parents running out of patience and on the verge of crying who would be happy to respond to a friendly hello from another Mom or Dad, especially one who understands. They might become a friend, a casual acquaintance or someone who knows about resources that can help out in other ways. Even a little contact with other parents can help sort things through. Whether you have company or are alone make sure you remind your child of your outdoor rules, such as staying inside the secured area, BEFORE you arrive at your destination. Going over your guidelines several times can help. Once there give lots of positive feedback when he sticks to the rules and be calm and firm the minute he even begins to veer off course. As hard as it may be, try and resist losing your patience. I know this is easier said that done but f you act quickly, calmly and firmly his behavior is more likely to improve.
If your child stays within the boundary you can offer him a concrete reward on the way home, a special treat to say thank you for his efforts.

One of the most important things to remember in response to your question is that older siblings crave the one-on-one attention they use to have before their sibling arrived. Although it may seem unrelated to the challenge in your question, one-on-one contact with Mom or Dad can go a long way to helping your son be more responsive to your guidance. I strongly recommend that you set aside an hour each week to spend time alone with your older child. During that time let him pick what you do together, he may even want to go and run in the park without having to adhere to two-year-old boundaries.

Good luck with your hefty workload, the time you put in to make this period go well can make a big difference in another year or two when you will most likely be confronting a different set of challenges.