How can I get my preschool-aged son to cooperate in getting dressed in the morning? It feels like every morning is a great big struggle and I can’t afford to spend all this time and energy fighting with him.
Dear Morning Mayhem,
Funny that you ask. I myself am struggling with the same thing. That kind of coincidence is almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, I cannot draw on my own experience to give you a one-size-fits-all solution because it is only a precarious combination of threats, patience, ingenuity, and the freedom to spend the morning at home if need be that gets Colum into his street clothes everyday.
Most parenting experts will stress the need for consistency and routine, and they are right to a degree. But so much of this is developmental. Two and three-year-olds will push their boundaries and see how much they can get away with. They are, in effect, experiencing an existential crisis in which they are grappling with their new-found independence and personal agency. It’s not even about whatever it is that they don’t want to be doing half the time. It’s just that they don’t want us telling them what to do and doing stuff for them all the time. So, we should pick our battles and let them do things on their own whenever possible. For the most part I find that if I give Colum the choice between doing something himself or having us do it for him, he will choose the former. Even if it’s something he’s resisting, he’ll reluctantly go along with it as long as he can do it himself.
But then there are those things that they cannot control: like getting dressed every morning or departure times or what’s for dinner. That’s when you need a firm and consistent approach that can see you through. Some variation of a time-out and positive reinforcement system will help encourage good behaviour and discipline acting out. There’s lots of literature out there on the subject, but I think that as long as your approach is consistent and expectations are clear, it doesn’t matter what the exact repercussions are. (I use an armchair in the living room for “time out” — though we just call it a punishment — and also take away favourite toys and activities if the behaviour persists.)
There are times when nothing seems to work — or nothing you can think of, anyway. Often, those times are in public and will result in a meltdown. Apart from calling in the Supernanny, conventional wisdom claims we just have to grin and bear it. Try to avoid a scene and get through them as best you can and remember that this too will pass. And if you do lose your temper (as we all do from time to time) and you feel badly, then I think it’s best to apologize to your child. By treating your child as an individual worthy of respect you are modeling appropriate behaviour and at the same time teaching them that everyone gets frustrated and upset and needs to work on staying calm.
So make clear your expectations, MM, and hold to the consequences you have laid out. It won’t be easy, but eventually your child should respond and your mornings will get easier. I’ll let you know how it works for me.
I’m trying something new, dear reader. In addition to my regular posts about the minutiae of my daily life and any larger ideas that I find time to explore, I would like to try my hand at an advice column. The above question (in case you couldn’t tell) is a fake in that I made it up. But I would love to hear from you and offer up some parenting advice, or direct you to someone who can, or at least have some fun at your expense. I plan to post these “Dear Playground” columns every second Monday, so you have over a week to get your questions in. And remember, there is a very good chance that your question will be the one I choose, given the vast expanse of emptiness that is my inbox. In fact, hypothetical scenarios will also be considered in a pinch.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Image courtesy of Larry Jones Illustration)