Hurry Up, You

Problem: Every morning I get frustrated with my 4-year-old son’s lack of cooperation. I tell him over and over again to get dressed, brush his teeth, and eat breakfast, so that we can get out the door on time for school. Should I have to repeat myself every single morning to get my son moving? I really dread morning struggles and am hoping you have some tips for me.

It should be a source of comfort for you to know that all young children have a morning agenda that’s different from their parents’. Even though getting ready is something children have to do, it’s really (as you’ve noticed) not a priority for them. When children wake up, they want to play, read, watch TV. They’re not in any rush to get dressed for school. And, young children can’t consider your priorities or understand that getting to school and other places on time matters. When these agendas clash, as they regularly do, there’s conflict.

Strategies: Problem: Every morning I get frustrated with my 4-year-old son’s lack of cooperation. I tell him over and over again to get dressed, brush his teeth, and eat breakfast, so that we can get out the door on time for school. Should I have to repeat myself every single morning to get my son moving? I really dread morning struggles and am hoping you have some tips for me.

It should be a source of comfort for you to know that all young children have a morning agenda that’s different from their parents’. Even though getting ready is something children have to do, it’s really (as you’ve noticed) not a priority for them. When children wake up, they want to play, read, watch TV. They’re not in any rush to get dressed for school. And, young children can’t consider your priorities or understand that getting to school and other places on time matters. When these agendas clash, as they regularly do, there’s conflict.

In order to deal with this issue effectively, it’s important to consider your son’s emotional and cognitive development and what’s reasonable behavior to expect from a 4-year-old. Most important, when you change your ways and expectations, you and your son will get off to a smoother start, every single morning.

Do understand that young children are developmentally egocentric which is why your son has trouble considering your morning needs, demands, and time constraints. Young children are naturally driven to think about and act on their own wishes and interests; “I wanna build a tower;” “watch Dora,” “ read this book.” Developmental changes happen gradually.

Don’t hesitate to do what you can to help your son get ready. He’ll be more cooperative if you help him get dressed, talk to him while he brushes his teeth, sit with him at the breakfast table. Whether he’s tired, or just wants your attention, you should assist in a pleasant and loving manner.

Do consider that you’ll experience less guilt if you talk to your son politely and calmly gather his stuff for the day. Always avoid negative words, “Can’t you remember anything?” “How many times do I have to tell you….”

Don’t reason with your son about your need to get to work or somewhere else on time. The age of reason shows up somewhere around age 6 or 7. This is when you’ll see him respond to morning responsibilities and consequences: “If you aren’t’ outside in time, you’ll miss the school bus.”

Do keep breakfast foods and bowls in low kitchen cabinets. Buy pint size milk containers or keep milk in small (tupperware) pitchers. This may motivate your child to help himself to cereal in the morning. Offer breakfast foods he likes.

Don’t nag your son to eat if he isn’t ready or hungry. Instead, take sliced fruit, dry cereal, crackers, toast, juice boxes in the car.

Do expect to patiently remind your son daily: “Please put your shoes on.” “Remember to put your sweater in your backpack.” A smooth morning happens when you actively stay involved, change your attitude, alter your expectations, and speak in a pleasant way.

Don’t worry about whether your assistance will hinder your son’s ability or desire to be independent. The drive to gradually become independent is so strong within children, there’s no stopping it – no matter how helpful you are. There may even be a bonus; your son may learn, by your example, to be more patient and kind. Children practice what they learn at home, on others.

Do try to be better prepared the night before. Make lunches, lay out clothes (yours and his), set the breakfast table, sign school notes, put your things and your son’s stuff by the front door. Before going off to bed, set your intention to have a pleasant morning with your son.

Bottom Line: You, the parent, create the tone in your home – morning, noon and night. Your son will benefit in many ways by you consistently helping out in a supportive way. Mornings will go smoother and most importantly, your son will learn to value himself – lessons every child benefits from experiencing early on. I urge you to be more patient, less intense, and to enjoy mornings with your son. After all, time marches on quickly, and these moments, in the scheme of life, are short lived and not worth battling.

In order to deal with this issue effectively, it’s important to consider your son’s emotional and cognitive development and what’s reasonable behavior to expect from a 4-year-old. Most important, when you change your ways and expectations, you and your son will get off to a smoother start, every single morning.

Do understand that young children are developmentally egocentric which is why your son has trouble considering your morning needs, demands, and time constraints. Young children are naturally driven to think about and act on their own wishes and interests; “I wanna build a tower;” “watch Dora,” “ read this book.” Developmental changes happen gradually.

Don’t hesitate to do what you can to help your son get ready. He’ll be more cooperative if you help him get dressed, talk to him while he brushes his teeth, sit with him at the breakfast table. Whether he’s tired, or just wants your attention, you should assist in a pleasant and loving manner.

Do consider that you’ll experience less guilt if you talk to your son politely and calmly gather his stuff for the day. Always avoid negative words, “Can’t you remember anything?” “How many times do I have to tell you….”

Don’t reason with your son about your need to get to work or somewhere else on time. The age of reason shows up somewhere around age 6 or 7. This is when you’ll see him respond to morning responsibilities and consequences: “If you aren’t’ outside in time, you’ll miss the school bus.”

Do keep breakfast foods and bowls in low kitchen cabinets. Buy pint size milk containers or keep milk in small (tupperware) pitchers. This may motivate your child to help himself to cereal in the morning. Offer breakfast foods he likes.

Don’t nag your son to eat if he isn’t ready or hungry. Instead, take sliced fruit, dry cereal, crackers, toast, juice boxes in the car.

Do expect to patiently remind your son daily: “Please put your shoes on.” “Remember to put your sweater in your backpack.” A smooth morning happens when you actively stay involved, change your attitude, alter your expectations, and speak in a pleasant way.

Don’t worry about whether your assistance will hinder your son’s ability or desire to be independent. The drive to gradually become independent is so strong within children, there’s no stopping it – no matter how helpful you are. There may even be a bonus; your son may learn, by your example, to be more patient and kind. Children practice what they learn at home, on others.

Do try to be better prepared the night before. Make lunches, lay out clothes (yours and his), set the breakfast table, sign school notes, put your things and your son’s stuff by the front door. Before going off to bed, set your intention to have a pleasant morning with your son.

Bottom Line: You, the parent, create the tone in your home – morning, noon and night. Your son will benefit in many ways by you consistently helping out in a supportive way. Mornings will go smoother and most importantly, your son will learn to value himself – lessons every child benefits from experiencing early on. I urge you to be more patient, less intense, and to enjoy mornings with your son. After all, time marches on quickly, and these moments, in the scheme of life, are short lived and not worth battling.

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