Help! My Child Just Keeps Dawdling! 10 Positive Strategies To Get Children Moving

Help! My Child Just Keeps Dawdling! 10 Positive Strategies To Get Children Moving

The morning rush…getting dressed, teeth brushed, to find that back pack, or a favorite teddy.  Sometimes our children just start taking their sweet old time getting ready.  The clock starts ticking, and everyone feels the crunch…What’s a parent to do to get kids out the door on time without being a drill sergeant, without threats or constant nagging?

Here are 10 Positive Strategies to Get Children To Stop Dawdling:

Stay connected

Rushing around shouting orders and nagging can frazzle and discourage a child. The possibility of having to separate from you for all or part of the day can certainly be a factor that could be slowing a child down as well. Build in enough time in the morning to find a moment to connect, even if it is brief. Great ways to stay connected are to have a family breakfast, build in enough time to have a morning snuggle before the morning routine starts and checking in with each other for a hug between say, putting on shoes and actually heading out the door.

Adjust timing & expectations

Make sure you are waking up with enough time to get your things done but also with enough time to be supportive of your child(ren). Some children are happy to go through their routine all on their own, other young children still prefer to have help, even at five or six years of age.  So, if your three year old needs help getting a shirt buttoned up or your five year old needs help getting hair detangled, or if your child needs company and encouragement, being available and having that time always built in to the routine is really important. On the flip side, if your child wants privacy to get cleaned and dressed, respect that, just let them know when you will be leaving and then, follow through.

Give choices but keep them limited

Children love to make choices but choosing what to wear, what to eat, which task to do first all while being on a time crunch can be overwhelming for some children.   By limiting the choices, a child still has control over certain decisions but can better navigate the morning routine. For example, have a set menu for breakfast with two options you know your child will eat is more time efficient than asking “what do you want for breakfast?”  and waiting for the answer, just to discover you don’t even have what they asked for in the house.

Prepare ahead

Right along with limiting choices, preparing ahead is a great way to save some time and avoid confusion. Make a habit of encouraging your child to pick out the next day’s outfit in advance.  Have a set place for hanging coats, stowing shoes, make sure your kids get these prepared ahead of time too.  Do the same thing for your own things too.  At our house,  we pre-set the table for family breakfast in the evenings shaving off quite some time in the morning.

Use a routine chart

When children know what their routine is they are more able to follow it and make choices that will lead to everyone getting out the door together.  An effective routine chart serves as a visual guide, it needs to be somewhere accessible and it should be specific to your child.  Don’t have a chart yet?  How about inviting your child to help make one? The chart is also helpful because it helps reduce the nag factor.

Ask instead of Nag

If your child starts dawdling, don’t repeat yourself over and over. It’s tiring for you and probably not going to speed things up.  Instead, try asking something along the lines of:

*What steps on your routine have you completed?

*What is the next thing on your routine you will be doing?

*What if anything do you need to finish so we can get out the door?

*Is there something I can help you with so we can all go?

Involve & Encourage

Making your child have an important job in the morning routine can be a great motivator to stop the dawdling. My five year old is responsible for opening the van door in our garage every morning, but he knows he cannot do this task unless he is actually ready to leave the house.  I make sure to thank him every morning for opening the door for me. It may seem trivial, but this job gives my five year something to look forward to.  My two year old carries the empty shopping bags to the car, my three year old clicks the garage remote…small tasks, but really these are important and make them feel involved.

Accountability with empathy

Hold yourself accountable for getting things prepared ahead of time and for staying connected. Hold your child accountable for following their routine and preparing ahead too. For instance, If they forget something and it really is too late to dash back inside the house to grab it then, empathize, comfort them through their disappointment but don’t go back.

Avoid creating tension

Remember the song from Alice in wonderland:

I’m late, I’m late for
A very important date.
No time to say hello, good-bye,
I’m late, I’m late, I’m late…

Sometimes when I find myself wanting to rush the kids around and shout, come on! we are getting late! I remember that song and it always makes me smile. Frazzling the children, when they are still learning about the concept of time in the first place is neither helpful nor constructive. Instead, I look for concrete ways that I can actually help speed things along and try my hardest to avoid saying “we are running late”.

Family Meetings

 If you have a routine, time is adjusted, you have regular special time, and you are holding everyone accountable and your child is still really struggling with the morning routine, have a family meeting  to address the to discover some of the reasons your child is reluctant to get out the door.  Try to listen and possibly re-adjust to find a balance that works for the whole family.

Do you have a strategy for being on time, do you run late or a mix of both?

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Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

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