This year, my resolution is to decrease the stress of getting our two children dressed for school every morning. Sometimes the struggle ruins my whole day. Even after we're in the car the tension from the battle is still in the air. My 4 year old is actually capable of dressing herself, but you'd never know that at 7 a.m. I could get the 2 year old ready if she weren’t dawdling. I have to be out the door by 8 a.m. or I'm late for work. Help!
Getting children of any age out the door in the morning can be a struggle. It isn't made any easier when you have the added stress of getting yourself to work, and perhaps, like many moms, feelings of guilt for needing to get your children up and out the door. Of course, parents who are at home during the day still have difficulty getting their children dressed and out in the morning, so it's not likely that your work is the primary reason for the struggle.
Before you think about strategies for making mornings go more smoothly, it helps at your patterns of getting your kids to bed the night before. Sometimes children go to bed so late at night that they're sleepy and sluggish or just cranky in the morning. If you haven't seen them as much as you would like during the day, it can be hard to be firm about bedtime, but children who don't get enough sleep are going to be hard to get to cooperate.
You can tell if a child is getting enough rest by paying attention to her natural waking-up time in the morning. Do you have to wake her up on weekdays? If you do, she probably isn't getting as much sleep as she needs. If she is napping for a long time in the afternoon to make up for the night before, she'll stay up later and the problem will continue. So you may have to shorten her naps to get bedtime under control. If she isn’t napping and is still staying up late, you may have to trade off the later bedtime fun for a more pleasant time in the morning.
Next, look at the overall organization of your evening and morning routines. Make a list, (written or mental, but written is usually better!) of all of the tasks that need to be accomplished. Then decide which responsibilities are parents alone, which can be left to your four-year-old alone, and which ones you can do together.
Many tasks that are often part of a rushed morning routine can be done the night before. Try choosing and setting out clothes (this will only save time if you make a "no changing your mind in the morning" rule), making all or part of lunches, and putting coats, shoes and backpacks by the front door. In many families, more time is spent in the morning looking for lost shoes than on any other activity except maybe yelling.
After you have organized your evening routine, look at the morning routine. Most children do best if they have to do the boring tasks before they get to the more pleasant ones. As soon as the children are up, have them get dressed before they begin to play or have breakfast. If television has become part of your morning don't turn it on until they are ready to go. (yes, many very good parents use television to amuse children while the parent has a shower!)
Even if your four-year-old can dress herself independently, she may not feel like being her most independent self early on a weekday morning. Since you are already spending lots of time trying to get her to get dressed, why not offer to dress her yourself, or to do part of the dressing for her? You can tell her, "I know that you know how to dress yourself, but if I help you it will go faster. When we're home at night and on the weekends you can do it all." Then she can act dependent with your permission and move towards more independence at an easier time for both of you. Often, once the struggle ends, a child will want to dress herself anyway!
If she wants to dress herself without help, one trick to keep her from dawdling is to tell her that if she can do it very fast you will have time together for something "extra". Set a timer for ten minutes. As soon as she is dressed you can read to her until the timer goes off. The more quickly she gets dressed, the more time she'll have for a story or some other activity she enjoys with you. It may seem as if you won’t have the time, but you may find that this method speeds up the tasks and you wind up with more time rather than less.
In some families the morning routine has grown into a repetitive struggle over who is going to be in charge of whom. If a child's dawdling is her way of saying, "Now, what are you going to do to make me cooperate?" warnings, threats, and even punishments won't make much of a dent in the pattern. In fact, many parents find that the angrier they get, the less effective they are.
If you sense that you are in a power struggle with either child, don't try to win it by being louder or more persistent than she is. Since your goal is a pleasant, cooperative morning, you won't be able to force your kids into anything more than grudging cooperation. Instead, redefine the problem as theirs, rather than yours. Tell them (especially your older child) the choices they have about getting dressed. Then tell her that if she doesn't take one of the choices and isn't dressed by the time you have to leave, you will take her to school in her pajamas.
Most children will test you on this solution, so be prepared to act. Don't get mad, just take them and their clothes and leave on time. Pre-school teachers everywhere are experienced with this kind of situation, but if you are concerned about their reaction, let them know about your plan. When you arrive at school, say very matter-of-factly, "Beth decided to get dressed here today," and leave. If you do all this without threats, warnings, or losing your temper, it's unlikely that you'll have to do it more than one or two more times before you get morning cooperation.
There is one more solution to the morning getting dressed problem that is very popular but rarely mentioned. To avoid a morning battle, just have your children get dressed the night before. They'll be a little rumpled, but you'll save on pajamas and you'll both be a lot more cheerful on the way to school!