On occasion, we answer reader questions on our blog. We choose questions based on the issues we frequently hear about from families we work with. In today’s post, I answer a reader’s question about how to wrangle the kids out the door in the morning.
Help! Our four year old is turning mornings into a three-ring circus. She thinks getting ready is a game and as soon as we start, she runs away. It’s one thing when she does it with me, but now she is starting to turn on the antics with our nanny. Our family has put many of your bedtime tips in to practice and I would like to figure out how the nanny and I can use them in the morning as well. Can you help us stop the circus?
I feel your pain. I really do. The herding of kids out the door in the morning has exasperated every parent at least a few times. The good news is, we can step out of the game and let them herd themselves.
The single biggest way we can step out of this game is stop hovering, chasing, and nagging. Before you say, “then we will never ever get out the door again,” think for a moment about what your child is getting out of this daily game. Why would they do as they are told and be out the door quicker when they could engage in a nice game of watch mommy chase me and give me her full attention? Our job is to model healthy ways to connect and get attention. If we nag and hover, it reinforces that they have found a great way to connect.
So what’s a parent to do? Here’s four tips to get you out the door without losing your mind:
1) Create a routine chart WITH your child. Routine charts help kids take responsibility for what needs to happen, particularly when we create it with our children. Kids become clear on their role and know their job matters in the family. It’s amazing how much this increases their willingness to cooperate.
2) Ask questions. Let the routine chart be the boss and use questions to prompt them when they get stuck. Questions invite your child to do the thinking instead of us telling them. Here’s a few examples:
- "What’s next on your routine chart?”
- “I notice that the clock says 8 AM. Do you remember what time we need to leave?"
- "What needs to happen so we can get to ____ on time?”
- “Would you like to put your jacket on first or your shoes?"
3) Make a statement. Sometimes a question just won’t do. Here’s a few statements that can help us share what’s on our mind without jumping back in to micromanaging:
- “In ten minutes it will be time for us to leave.” (then just sit back- trust they will do it. So important not to show mistrust.)
- “I know its hard to stop playing with ____, and I am concerned we will be late to ____”
- “I know its hard to stop playing with ____, and I am happy to babysit your (stuffies, cars, books) until you get home and can play with them again.
3) Disengage. You tried a question, you tried a statement and things are still not moving along. Now is the time for us to zip our mouths before we lose it. Use one statement. “It’s time to leave for school. I will be on the porch/garage/by the door when you are ready.” Then not another word.
Our instinct here is to keep talking and coaxing. As we get more upset, we move on to threats, bribes, anything to get them to do what we want them to. It is critical not to engage here. If they ask questions, get upset, you can point to your watch, make an empathetic face, point to door, etc. I actually have to go out on the porch so that I am not tempted to get involved again.
The first day that you try this, I recommend leaving extra time so that you can wait patiently. When we are pressed for time, it raises our stress level which triggers our child’s own stress response. That is definitely not going to speed things up. If you can wait them out without jumping back in the game, eventually your child will come. When they do, there’s no need for lecture. Just a simple thank you and move along with the day. If we start in with what they did wrong, we just put them back in a place of feeling powerless and they are likely to turn the antics back on.
The good news is, when we stay out of it and let them have their feelings, it usually only takes a few times for them to get on board. Children realize their antics are not getting the desired response, and they let go of the behavior. Be sure to offer opportunities for them to feel connected in positive ways so they will be less likely to seek them out this way down the road.