It is a top challenge for parents to get your child out the door. This is an activity that many of you argue, and I agree, should be much simpler and yet it tends to be one of the most frustrating moments of the day, with morning tussles often being the hardest. I recently received this note from the parents of a spirited four-year-old. Does this situation sound familiar to you?
“From the minute our daughter wakes up, we are walking on eggshells waiting for her to erupt. The mornings are a nightmare. Demands, meltdowns, rudeness, refusing to eat or get dressed. What do we do to make the mornings better?”
WHAT’S GOING ON?
The havoc of getting your child out the door is a perennial and universal problem (meaning, your child is not abnormal or extra difficult) because leaving home is about separation from you and the comfort, stability and safety of home. This is one of the hardest transitions for your toddler to navigate.
Separation and saying good-bye is hard for toddlers; for some, the emotional intensity of separating starts the moment he or she wakes up. Even if your child enjoys being at school and looks forward to seeing his or her friends, separating is still difficult and delaying the inevitable good-bye may start well before you get to the front door. Battles over getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth are a common complaint, as are bizarre requests to delay separating. I remember when one of my sons was at this age and just as we were about to leave the house, he bolted back to his bedroom in full winter gear and hysterics screaming, “No, I won’t go. I didn’t put stuffed tiger on the shelf where he sleeps all day!” Was his meltdown about Tigey? No, he didn’t want to leave home.
What You Can Do Today:
Have a clear, morning routine in place (wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, put on coat and backpack, wave good-bye to the house) that you follow each weekday with minimal distractions. If you send your child into the playroom to get her shoes she will see all the toys she could be playing with. Even a minor distraction can set your child off course. Instead, put her shoes by the front door. When leaving the house, let your child stick something small from home in his pocket or backpack. A note from you with a smiley face or a heart will also help your child feel close to home and ease his sense of separation.
Your child lives in the here and now. Your child is focused on the moment, which means she’s not thinking about what comes next (getting to school or to a weekend birthday party). Being so focused on the activity at hand also makes it hard for your child to stop and shift gears. As a parent, it is your role to move your child to the next thing, even when it’s challenging. The mother of a 5-year-old noted:
“He loves to be outside but getting him out is simply impossible, even to play in the yard. I dragged him out screaming because all he wanted to do was build Legos, Legos, Legos, which he had been doing for hours. He screamed that he hated me. Then, he played outside for two hours, gloriously happy. He didn’t even want to come in.”
What You Can Do Today:
To help your very focused child switch modes, give a heads-up before asking him to move on. Say, “In a few minutes, park your train for later,” and then let your child know that he can return to this activity later. Reminders like, “You can play with your trains again when we get home from the store,” tells your child that he will have the opportunity to return to his current play and helps ease the transition from one activity to the next.
Over-scheduled. I’ve discovered that the more scheduled children are, the less they want to leave home, especially on weekends. Of course, this isn’t true for all children, but it may be for yours. Consider how busy your child’s week is—day care, pre-school, after care, organized sports and other activities like music and language lessons can be a heavy load for a little person. For young children, after a fully scheduled day and week, just being home feels good and being able to decide for themselves what to do on their off-time feels even better.
What You Can Do Today:
Consider lightening up your child’s days—less planned activities, fewer weekend outings, more down time at home including being outdoors with family. You can keep a routine and still relax this way. Then on Sunday night, prepare for Monday morning. Breakfast dishes and clean clothes out. Lunches made ahead of time. Shoes, coat, and backpack all ready to go by the front door. The less organizing you have to do in the mornings, the more you can help your child navigate through their routine and leave on time.