Trying to get our kids out the door on time in the morning
can be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor.
Even when we start off determined to make THIS morning better, we can
still end up with arguments and tears.
What to do?
One of the themes I keep coming back to with parents is the
importance of letting our kids know we understand how they are feeling. Even the most empathic among us are sometimes
surprised by how easy it is to deny our kids’ feelings. It happens when we are stressed, or under
pressure, or just plain exhausted. In
other words, most days!
At this time of year, the reality of the school routine has
sunk in, and the newness has worn off.
Even my son who was so excited at the beginning of school – new
teachers, new school supplies, seeing his friends... so much to look forward to
–loses his enthusiasm after a few weeks.
Here’s what I hear when it is time to leave:
“I don’t want to go.”
“I’m not finished eating.”
“Why do we have to go to school
“I want YOU to put my shoes
Here’s what doesn’t work:
“You had such a good time
yesterday. Don’t you want to see your
“It’s your own fault for running around at
bedtime. Tonight you’re going to bed
early!” (I hate you!)
“Hurry up – we’re going to be
late!” (Why should I hurry? I’d rather be late, or not go at all!)
“If you don’t come by the time I count to
three, you can’t watch a video tonight.” (I
don’t care! I hate you!)
“You know how to put your own
shoes on. Come on, let’s go!” (I can’t.
I don’t want to.)
Even though it might seem counter-intuitive, acknowledging
that he REALLY doesn’t want to go is often the most helpful thing I can say:
“You are NOT in the mood for
school right now.”
“Don’t you wish they would make
school start later, so we wouldn’t have to rush in the morning?”
“I bet if you were in charge,
you wouldn’t make children go to school every day!”
Of course, if I can manage to be a little playful while we
were getting ready and change the mood, it feels like magic:
“Listen, I hear your shoes
calling to you: [in funny voice] we miss your feet. Please
warm us up!” (If he starts giggling,
I know I am on the right track.)
And sometimes it helps to plan something to look forward to,
once we get in the car:
“Do you want to pick the music
we listen to on the way over?”
“Shall we make up a story about
kids who NEVER have to go to school?”
For more ideas, sign up for a "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen" workshop, or start one yourself!
I have a question regarding lying. When my 2 year old, Indy, sees the bottle of Children's Tylenol in the drawer, she says "I'm sick!" The first few times I checked her temperature with a thermometer and found no fever. I suspect that she just wants to taste the medicine. Now, when she says it, I feel her forehead and say, "You're not sick. You don't have a fever!" I don't want to deny her feelings, but also don't want to give her Tylenol if she doesn't need it. Any ideas about what to say?
S., mother of a 2-year-old
At Indy's age, she is still learning about the difference between truth and fantasy, and she's testing things out. She sees the Tylenol, and has figured out she gets some if she says she "feels sick." So she is trying this out on you. Since you are pretty sure she isn't really sick, you can gently let her know that she doesn't feel feverish, but you and she can pretend that she is sick. Then you can give her some pretend Tylenol (colored water, honey, grape juice, whatever you feel comfortable with), and you can cuddle her and tell her you hope she feels better soon. Let her know that you can't give her real Tylenol, because it's not good to take it when you're not sick ("although I bet you'd like to take it anytime, because it does taste sweet and delicious, doesn't it?") This last comment lets her know you understand how she feels (she'd like to have Tylenol now), while being clear she can't actually have some now.
My 4-year-old now insists that he makes the rules, and he refuses to obey the rules I've made for him. What really gets my goat is that in a way he's right! I'll tell him it's time to brush his teeth, but when he refuses to cooperate I can't force him to -- especially with a 2-year-old and a 5-month old baby to care for as well. So when he yells that "it is not time to brush my teeth" and runs away, he "wins" that one. I have explained to him that I'm the mommy, so I'm in charge of making the rules, but it does no good. We end up arguing about who makes the rules, and he still won't brush his teeth. I'm not willing to use brute force to make him comply, but short of that, I don't know what to do. Please help!
Signed, Mother of 3 and at their mercy,
Dear At Their Mercy,
First of all, congratulations for so clearly rejecting the use of brute force -- and I include the use of threats and punishments in that category -- to get compliance from your 4-year-old. What the use of force teaches children is that the way to get what they want is to impose their power (physical or otherwise) on other people. Not only would this teach a value you do not subscribe to, but if you chose this strategy you would undoubtedly see it "trickle down" from your 4-year-old to your 2-year-old to your baby -- with sometimes disastrous results.
I'd suggest you reframe the way you think of the problem, and the way you talk about it with your children. All your talk about who makes the rules rests implicitly on the idea that families are about people in authority imposing their will on the less powerful. But families should not be about rules and obedience. Rather, in families we do our best to keep everyone safe and meet everyone needs as best we can, knowing that sometimes these needs conflict. When we shift from a model of rules and authority to a model of caring and needs, we change the way we talk about what needs to be done and why.
In the case of tooth brushing, we shift from insisting that Johnny brush his teeth "because I said so" to an expectation that he'll brush his teeth for his own good health, complete with age-appropriate explanations. And we'll ask, what does Johnny need? More attention? (Undoubtedly true, in a family with the demands of three young children.) Help with a late-night challenging routine? Thinking about it this way will allow you to get creative about making tooth-brushing fun for both you and Johnny. This can mean anything from pretending to be a goofy dentist ("just where did you hide your teeth, anyway?"), to singing a silly tooth song, or brushing away all the wacky (pretend) food he's managed to eat all day ("really, Johnny, you must stop tasting all the mud at the park," said in jest). Make tooth-brushing fun, something that brings you two together, and you won't be arguing over who rules the tooth brush in the house.