>Dear Dr. Hackney,
I have three children, and each morning, it is a struggle to get them off to school without losing my cool. We pick out clothes the night before, I wake them up with about 90 minutes before we have to leave, breakfast is finished and kids are usually dressed with at least 30 minutes before departure, teeth are brushed, no TV in the morning, which leaves them a little time to play. I give them a 5-10 minute warning before we have to head outside to the bus stop. After the five minutes, I have to ask them to put shoes on (repeatedly), coats (repeatedly), hats, gloves, etc. During this time, at least one is wanting a drink, the other very engrossed in a book, Legos, or simply not paying attention, or the little guy needs a diaper change. This is where my blood pressure starts to race and my voice rises, and no one is listening as I am rushing everyone out the door. What can I do to make the mornings easier aside from having them put their coats andshoes on at the 15 minute mark? Oh ,and during all this time, I have to get myself fed, dressed, and use the potty. I feel like my energy is already spent before my day has really begun. Any suggestions for managing my frustration and making morning more peaceful are truly appreciated.
Mother of three, ages 2, 4 and 6 years
This is a case of “physician heal thyself.” As much as I know what to do, we all have rushed mornings at least occasionally.
There are several things that may be helpful in these moments. Not that you need less sleep, but you might get yourself dressed and fed before you wake them. This would free up your time to be with and to help them move along. You said they often have a full 30 minutes to play, so you could even just wake them a bit later to give yourself this time.
While it wouldn’t work for coats and hats, you could add shoes to the initial getting dressed routine. Every little bit helps.
At the 10 minute mark, I would ask, “Does anyone need to potty or have a drink? This is the time for going potty.” Or, you could have them each try the potty while in transition from pajamas to being dressed for the day.
If they are buried in Legos or eyes glazed over looking out the window, they may not even hear you, let alone know you are speaking to them directly. Before asking them to put on coats or shoes, be sure you have their attention. Say their name, touch their arm, get down on their level, gain eye contact, whisper, flick the lights or something to be sure you have their attention before you speak. If you don’t have their attention, of course, you are going to have to repeat yourself. The repetition itself is frustrating.
Along the same lines, stop repeating yourself. Every time you do, you are actively teaching them to not listen and instead to wait you out. If you say things five times over, you are teaching them you are willing to say things five times over. They are learning to wait you out at least that long, if not longer tomorrow. With that said, they are not going to magically listen the first time. This has been a habit shaped between you and your children for a long time; it takes real effort to fix. So, if tomorrow you decide to say things once “Please put on your shoes,” and they don’t listen, bite your tongue and take the shoes to the child or the child to the shoes and help them to listen. Over time, you are teaching them that you are only going to say things once, and you actually expect them to listen. This is a far better habit to be in than all the repetition, and it should be less frustrating. Be warned, while in the long run this will save you much time and energy, it is going to initially slow the process, so start early.
To get them moving, you might also offer choices in the process. “Would you like the red shoes or the blue?” “Do you want to put on your coat yourself or with help?” Choices encourage children to buy into the behavior.
As hard as it is, you might have success with making things more fun and more playful. You might say “Let’s see if you can get on your coats before mommy.” “Let’s sing ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ while we get ready.” Distraction can still work wonders at four and six years old, if it is a fun distraction.
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.