05Feb
2018
0

Ready, Set,…Dawdle?

How to help your child pick up the pace.

Not long ago, I was helping my daughter prepare for an outing with her girls. My assignment: Help granddaughter Hartley get dressed. Let me say here that Hartley is the light of my life; we’re best buds. But when it came to getting dressed that day, she wasn’t having it. I must have said, “Let’s put on your shoes and socks” 20 times—and each time she’d walk away, pick up a doll, or start talking about a different subject. I could sense my frustration level and my impatience rising. Finally, Hartley went to her mother and said, “Grammy’s being mean to me.”

I was crushed! I racked my brain to think of what I could have said or done that made her feel I was being mean. Then it hit me: Kids are naturally perceptive. Hartley could feel how frustrated I was getting with her. I thought, “Gotcha, parenting expert—now who needs advice?!”

I remembered what it was like to go through this ritual every single day with three kids, trying to get them ready for school or sports practice or into the bathtub and off to bed. It felt like Olympic wrestling-meets-Groundhog Day!

So how do you deal with a “dawdler” in a way that doesn’t exhaust, infuriate, or overwhelm you or your child? (Hint: Nagging is not the answer. That only encourages kids to tune you out until you sound like the grown-ups in the Charlie Brown TV specials—wah wah wah.)

First, try to understand what’s going on behind your child’s behavior.

At a certain stage of development, kids are endlessly curious about the world; everything they do is about exploration. So it’s completely natural for preschoolers to dawdle—who wouldn’t want to linger when engrossed in something as fascinating as watching an ant walk a straight line?

Perhaps your child has difficulty with transitions, and needs a lot of notice beforehand. Or maybe the wee one is engaging in a little power play, or simply wants attention. It can help you control the situation if you know exactly what situation you’re dealing with.

Ultimately, children need to learn self-direction and time management skills if they’re going to succeed in school. So here are 5 tips to help you help your child get on track:

1. Remain calm and resist overreacting. Believe me, I know it’s difficult not to take the bait when your child is being obstructionist. But you don’t want them to think dawdling is an effective way to get attention. So take a deep breath, and choose your words carefully. Saying, “Come on, slowpoke!” is not only hurtful to your child, it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

1. Remain calm and resist overreacting. Believe me, I know it’s difficult not to take the bait when your child is being obstructionist. But you don’t want them to think dawdling is an effective way to get attention. So take a deep breath, and choose your words carefully. Saying, “Come on, slowpoke!” is not only hurtful to your child, it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. Model the behavior you desire from your child. Are you always rushing around the kitchen in the morning, applying your makeup at red lights, leaving your lunch on the kitchen counter? If you’re constantly rushing in the morning, or driving like a maniac, you’re giving your kids a perfect example of how not to learn time management skills. You want to set an example of readiness, so that you avoid feeling rushed and stressed, and of promptness, so that your child sees you meeting your obligations.

Modeling behavior extends to how you communicate with your child. Do you yell from the other room, “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” or stand in the doorway of her room saying “I’ve told you five times, get dressed!”? We end up sounding like drill sergeants—and I’m ashamed to say I’ve been there and done that!

Instead, walk over to your child and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Make sure he is looking directly at your face. Give him your instructions. Have him repeat them to you. And remind him of the consequence that will ensue if he doesn’t follow directions.

3. Prepare for transitions. In school and in life, children perform better when they understand what’s expected of them. Use a timer, bell, buzzer, or gentle but firm verbal warnings to let your children know the plan. “After you pick up your toys, you’re going to brush your teeth.” Or, “You can finish one more game, and then you have to pack your bookbag for school tomorrow.” Ask your child to think of ways they can get ready more quickly, such as laying out their clothes the night before school. Children will be much less resistant if they feel they’ve had some choice in how things are done.

4. Communicate that you love the child despite the dawdling. Of course it’s frustrating when your child doesn’t immediately do what you’ve asked of them. But saying, “Why do you always do this?” or “You’re so slow!” tells the child that he or she is the problem. Always focus on the behavior, not the child, and apply age-appropriate consequences: “If you don’t put your toys away, you won’t be able to go play outside.”

5. Consider using incentives. I’m not one who believes in bribes, but some positive incentives can really help get kids going, especially when they can track their own progress. A weekly or monthly chart with stickers can motivate kids by reminding them of all the times they did a good job, and inspire them to continue doing so. When they reach a predetermined number of stars, take them out for a treat.

And here’s a bonus tip: If you have a child who is a dawdler, build that time into your schedule. Because the more you yell “Hurry-up-come-on-we’re-going-to-be-late!,” the less likely you are to see your child dressed and ready to go!