Despite brave planning efforts and repeated requests, your children are half dressed. They made the house look like a category F5 tornado that came through, and are not nearly ready to go when you have to leave the house. You can feel your temperature rise while the clock starts ticking again late. If this sounds familiar, you will find some useful tools below. Consider including these strategies in your routine to help you get out on time with fully dressed children in tow.
Practicing dry running the below strategies with younger children can help you prepare for when you need to leave the house on time in the future.
Make a checklist
If your child has trouble remembering every step of a morning routine and gets distracted quickly, a visual list can help. Have your child tick every completed task. For example, children like to check boxes on a whiteboard.
Specific steps can be: getting out of bed, making the bed, getting dressed, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, brushing teeth, having breakfast, and so on.
Set time benchmarks
It can be useful for children to have time benchmarks when a task needs to be completed. Consider the time you need to leave and the time it usually takes to complete each task. For example, a child must be out of bed at 7:00 am, make the bed at 7:05 am, and manage all other morning tasks in time to leave the door at 7:45 am.
If your child does not yet know how to tell time, you can use sand timers. Your child will know that the time is up when all the sand has settled on the bottom of the timer. After a task has been completed, you can re-enter the room where the child is located and start a new hourglass.
Price each completed step
Giving your child specific positive attention after every completed step is a way to encourage that behavior to continue. If you say “Great Work”, your child will not know if it was “great” to get out of bed, make the bed, get dressed or any other behavior. Instead, you could say, “Get dressed by 7:10 am!”
Praise can be even more effective if you praise enthusiastically and with physical touch, such as a pat on the back or a high five. If a child has sensory processing issues, such as feeling uncomfortable with physical contact, you can use a non-verbal gesture, such as a thumbs up instead. You may find it useful to set alarm reminders on your phone to ask you to praise children at every step.
Try a pay table
A reward chart can reinforce routine behavior. For example, your child can earn a sticker or a star for every step completed on time. The stars can be used for rewards that your child has identified as motivating. Rewards do not have to cost money. One reward can be, for example, that your child chooses the meal for dinner.
- If a child deserves a star for their behavior, you would praise: “Way to get dressed at 7.10 am (high five)! You get a star (add a star to the reward chart)! “
- If the child did not finish the behavior on time, you could say in a neutral tone: “You are not dressed at 7.10 am, so you will not get a star. I know you can try again tomorrow. “
- If a behavior does not appear to be within reach after some exercise, try to divide it into steps. For example, your child will put on a shirt at 7:10 am (praised behavior) and you will help the child put on the remaining items of clothing.
It is important to stay calm even though you may be stressed because you are late and frustrated with your child. Every attention, even frustrated tones, will reinforce a behavior. Your goal is to pay attention to the completed versus the incomplete tasks. You also want to remind your child that there is still a chance to complete a behavior in the future. Your attention is like gold: encouraging the behavior you want to see brings that desired jackpot of attention within reach for the child. Exercise makes progress. You have this!