Getting a 3 Year Old Out the Door in the Morning

Hi Dr. Rene,

I have a three year, two month old son.  In the last month or so, it has been extremely difficult to get him to cooperate so we can leave the house.  He runs away when I try to get him dressed, shoes and coat on, etc. and it is making it challenging to be on time for important things like picking his sister up from school.  I try to leave extra time but nothing so far has helped.  If we are going somewhere he wants to go, it is a little easier, but he often says he wants to stay home and play so it is very difficult when he does not want to go where we are going.  Sometimes, if we cannot be a minute later, I have to force his shoes on and carry him to the car.  It is very frustrating and I know that he knows he has control over the situation when he runs away laughing as I follow him around with socks and shoes and a coat!  How do I avoid making it a power struggle?  Also, if he refuses to put a coat on and it’s cold out, should I let him go out without a coat?  If I give him choices, he will tell me “neither”!  Thanks for any advice!

Sincerely, Amy

Mom of two

Hi Amy,

This is such a common time of day to struggle with children.  I think the only time that tops getting out of the house is getting them in bed.  The first thing I would do is build a schedule.  Start by deciding what time you need to leave, let’s say this is 8:00am in the morning.  Then make a list of all the things that need to happen before you can leave and decide about how much time can go for each.  Then add 10 minutes, work your way backwards from 8:00am to figure out what time you and the kids need to get up and moving.  That extra 10 minutes is time for him to work towards and you set it aside for him to play with legos or look at books or play with his trains.  This way you can remind him, if you are getting dressed quickly you will have time for trains.  It also give you a bit of a buffer, if the morning isn’t going well you have 10 extra minutes built in.

Really think through the order and logistics of things.  If you are forever chasing him to get shoes on at the last minute, have his shoes on as part of getting dressed or shoes before breakfast.  If you rush around each morning to pack his school bag, make packing his school bag part of the evening routine instead.

Once you have your schedule, work with your child to make it visual.  Take pictures of him going through the process or find pictures online of the activities or help him draw the pictures and then make a poster of the steps.  Give him choices if you can about the order of the morning or of activities for how to spend his 10 minutes.

Then think job and choices.  Jobs are making him the shoe picker or the cereal pourer and the light switcher on the way out or the car key carrier to unlock the door and let everyone in.  These are easy and fun ways to help him buy into the behavior.  An individual job may only be interesting for a day or two while others may be interesting for a few weeks (like the car key carrier or radio tuner).  Choices are asking does he want to get dressed on the bed or the floor, does he want cereal or oatmeal, does he want his red coat or blue.  Choices work because they share power.  When he says “neither” to choices, you can reply, “You can choose or I will choose for you.”  If he participates then, fine.  If not, you can choose for hima nd move on.

When all else fails, consequences are fair game.  It is fine to say, “If you don’t have your shoes on, your feet might be cold,” and then swoop him up and go, putting the shoes on later.  Hopefully, if you can accept this as just a part of the plan it will be less frustrating when you use them.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

 

 

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