Q&A: Aaack! Getting Out the Door in the Morning

The Next Family

By: Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg

sleeping kids

I hate mornings at my house. I’m a single mom and I dread getting my two kids out the door for preschool before I have to go to work. They dawdle while they’re eating breakfast, it’s a struggle to get them to brush their teeth, and when it’s time to get dressed, they fight over every last piece of clothing. One day they’ll wear their clothes, but not their shoes. One will get dressed and the other won’t. Mostly they just want to play, and they say they’ll put on their shirt after this “one more thing.” It’s stressful and I feel like I’ve tried EVERYTHING! We have a set routine every morning, and we start early. I’m really at my wit’s ends. Help!

We feel your pain. Getting out the door in the mornings is stressful for most families with young children. We’ll share some specific ideas for moving things along, but in general, we’ve found that if you take a deep breath and let go of some anxiety, you might find your children relaxing and cooperating more easily. When children are worried about your emotional state, they’re less able to focus on the task at hand and can react to tension with resistance. Try to keep the big picture in mind, reminding yourself that your goal is a strong relationship with your kids, and that being a few minutes late to preschool is not (usually) a serious offense.

Although this might sound counter-intuitive, we suggest building some time to connect into your morning. Nurturing your connection with your kids will ground all three of you and will help them respond to your requests. Just after your kids wake-up, focus on eye contact and cuddling. Some playful wrestling can burn off energy and help the kids focus once it’s time for breakfast and getting dressed. Build on the trust that’s been established to get everyone through the routine and out the door.

We also have some concrete suggestions for you to try:

●      Mentally rehearse the routine by talking it through with your kids the night before. Ask them to tell you the steps so they’re prepared. Or, help your kids engage in role play by playing ‘getting ready for school’, so that they can practice the sequence of events with dolls or animals.

●      Dress your kids at night. In some families, children put on clean clothes after their bath and wear them to bed. Alternatively, your kids could dress in the back seat while you’re parked in the preschool parking lot. In cold weather, the kids can wear clothes over their pajamas.

●      Try the five finger rule. Each finger represents one thing that needs to be done before leaving. Such as: Forefinger goes potty; middle finger gets dressed; ring finger eats breakfast; pinkie brushes teeth; thumb uses the potty again.

●      Make up a song about going out the door. This is the song the whole family sings as you are heading toward the door. Pick a tune you know and make up silly words, such as,“I’m putting on my socks-socks, I’m glad there are no rocks-rocks in my shoes! I’m putting on my shoes-shoes, now I have to choose-choose one big HAT!” And everyone jumps up and down three times at the word “hat.”

●      Try animal or vehicle play – See if your kids want to select a “fast” animal or vehicle that they would like to impersonate for the morning routine, such as a jack rabbit or a race car. Consider making a simple pair of ears or a tail that the kids can wear during the morning sprint.

●      Get crafty and create a fun way for your kids to keep track of what they need to do in the morning: Paste photos of each morning task on pieces of cardboard and string them like lights. Or, put them in envelopes that you’ve glued onto poster board. When a task is completed, your child can move its photo from one side of the string to another, or from the row of ‘undone’ envelopes to the special row of ‘done’ envelopes. This activity might seem daunting, but it can be extremely effective at helping kids realize that a routine is comprised of bite-sized steps.

●      Model your desired behavior and let your kids see you eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, packing up your own things the night before, etc.

You may find that some of these tools work on some days and not on others. Experiment with different tricks to keep your kids focused. Also, it’s worth taking a step back and asking if there are any ways to relieve the time pressure so that you can all enjoy each other more. Many preschools understand “toddler time” and don’t mind if parents drop off late. Is it possible to shift things so that you can arrive at work later than you have been? As adults, we’re often programmed to rush, but slowing down is an opportunity to experience the world from your kids’ perspective. Often, taking an extra minute to value connection saves time in the long run because we avoid big explosions. Also, by sidestepping bribes and punishments, you are laying the groundwork for your kids to become comfortable and friendly collaborators in your routine as they get older.

Let us know how it goes!

[Photo Credit: swan-t]

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