“Hurry up!” “I don’t want to be late!” “You need to put your shoes on NOW!” Parents say these things over and over while they prepare breakfast, pack lunches, and help their child get ready for day care, school, a playdate, doctor’s appointment, or an outing. In the midst of all this activity, young children dawdle along, seemingly unaware of the frustration they cause. It can seem to parents that nothing keeps their child from procrastinating, not logical arguments, threats, rewards, or punishments.
Most children need constant reminders. “Brush your teeth.” “Put your coat on.” “Stop playing.” “Eat your breakfast.” “Get your backpack.” This is because they aren’t interested in rushing off. Getting ready is something they have to do, but it’s not a priority. They’d much rather get involved in playing, drawing, reading, using the computer, or watching TV. In addition, children have only a loose sense of time. Ten minutes can feel like plenty of time to finish playing and get dressed. It’s parents, not children, who think time and morning routines are important.
Here are some strategies to try if you, like so many parents, have a child who doesn’t cooperate in the morning. Try waking yourself up fifteen to twenty minutes earlier so your preparations won’t be as hurried. With a little more time in the morning, you can relax, share a cup of cocoa with your child, talk during breakfast, maybe take a short walk. Even five minutes of relaxed time together can make the morning smoother. You can also wake your child up earlier so he has time to play before getting ready.
You might find mornings more peaceful if you make lunches, lay out clothes, and help your child pack up his backpack in the evening. What works for one family or child may not work for another. You may have tried many techniques and still find your mornings difficult. In that case, changing your attitude toward your child may help some. Instead of expecting him to take care of himself completely, accept that you’ll have to help him along. It’ll be faster and more peaceful for you to help your child get ready than to yell, “We’re in a hurry!” Identify tasks he has the most trouble with and either offer help, do them for him, or keep calmly reminding him; all kids need constant reminders. He’ll be more cooperative if you help him get dressed, talk to him while he brushes his teeth, or sit with him at the breakfast table. Don’t nag your child about eating breakfast if he isn’t ready or hungry. Instead, take sliced fruit, dry cereal, crackers, toast, and juice boxes in the car.
Don’t worry about whether your assistance will hinder your child’s ability or desire to become independent. The drive to become independent is so strong within children, there’s no stopping it, no matter how helpful you are. There may even be a bonus; your child may learn, by your example, to be more patient, helpful, and kind.
The tone you set in the morning is what your child will take with him as he starts his day. If you’re angry and frustrated, it’ll be hard for him to start his day in a happy way. If you’re calm and understanding, he’ll have an easy time starting his day off with good feelings. If you change your expectations, you’ll realize that your child is simply acting as most young children do. Instead of thinking about your child being uncooperative, help him get ready in a loving, fun, and calm way. It’s important for both you and your child to start the day on a positive note.