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The Dawdling Toddler

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Child Consistently Stalling

"I hate the battle I have every morning with my toddler while trying to get him to turn off the TV, put on his coat and boots, and get out the door. I can’t be late for work and I just get angrier until I blow up. I always end up feeling terrible about how I handled things. Any suggestions?"

Most parents deal with this type of dawdling the same way – by nagging, threatening and lecturing: "let’s go" "come on – we’re late" "we don’t have any more time" "look, I’ve had it, I can’t be late, and you are making me angry" " I’m leaving without you."

"After all is said and done, a lot more will be said than done." – Unknown

Would you be willing to give up the expectation that your children should blindly obey your commands, and instead look for ways to stimulate their motivation to be co-operative?

Here’s one way…

Tool – Offer Choice

Mom: "It’s time to go – can you turn off the TV on your own or do you need help?

[Tip: Given a choice of them or you – toddlers usually choose doing things for themselves.]

Child: (ignores mom)
Mom: "I see you need help" (mom turns off the TV)

[Tip: The child’s behaviour expresses their choice – NOT their words.]

Child: I wanted to turn it off!!!
Parent: That time has come and gone, you can choose differently next time

[Tip: Children will go back on their choices and pull your chain – don’t let them succeed. They will learn to choose what they want the FIRST time if that’s all that is put forth.]

Child: But I wanted to!
Parent: I am sorry you’re disappointed with your decision. Now it’s time for coats.
Child: NO! I’m not putting it on!!!
Parent: You need a coat with you. Would you like to wear it or carry it in a bag? You decide.
Child: NO!
Parents: "No coat" is not a choice. Would you like to decide or should I?
Child: NO!
Parent: Looks like you’d like me to decide – let’s put it in a bag and head to the car.
Child: No! I am not going.
Parent: Yeah, I hear that you don’t want to, but sadly, its time to go now . Can you walk to the car on your own or do you need help?
Child: I’m not going!
Parent: I see you need help, I can carry you then (picking up child).
Child: Put me down!
Parent: Oh – I see you’d like to manage on your own – that’s great! Let’s go.


TTFT (Take time for training)
This will all be new to you and your child. You will need to repeat this scenario again and again while your child is learning about making good choices for themselves.

Things Get Worse Before They Get Better
Typically with change, things get worse before they get better! Hang in there. You may get tantrums (ignore them) instead of dawdling for the first bit. It means a big upfront effort in order to gain mornings of PEACE for ever after. It’s well worth it.

Keep a Firm and Friendly Attitude
Don’t let you emotions take control of the situation.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

5 Responses to “The Dawdling Toddler”

  1. Zhenia

    Hi Alyson,
    I understand how to deal with a toddler when he is not co-operating in the morning. The end result is that if he doesn’t cooperate by the time he needs to go in the car, I can just pick him up and carry him out. But what can a mom do when her child is 9 yo, is almost taller than her and weighs 95lbs? You can let him experience the consequenses of unbrushed teeth, uneaten breakfast, unpacked lunch, but how do you get him to go in the car when all the deadlines have run out?
    Please help.

  2. Alyson Schafer

    You are right – you can’t lug them in to the car then! Its about trying to WIN their co-operation instead of “making them” which invites resistance.
    At 9 they can’t be left at home alone, but you can speed things up by:
    1) don’t micro-manage their morning and shout time warnings at them. It infuriates them and they slow down in response to our insistence on them speeding up.
    2) let them know you are ready when ever they are, and then take your coffee and a book and go sit in the car. They will come eventually.
    This only works if you are not angry, and if you don’t push and micromanage. END the fight, instead of winning it.
    ( yes – leave some extra time for the first few weeks while they get the hang of it)
    Let me know how it goes!

  3. Alana Post

    I am really struggling with my 4 year old refusal in the morning to get ready and on-time for school. I have been letting him have choices, not very successfully though. However, he has been progressively later and later for school in the morning. This adds to my stress, frustration and anger and then I pressure him more, which ends his motivation at all. He has just been waiting me out, until I snap and then he will get going. I am so frustrated. I also feel that my parenting style, has been leading my son into the rebellious area of his behaviour. He is sensitive and hurt easily. How do I deal with a power struggle, and a rebellious child all when I have to get him to school at a set time? The school is also giving me the “look” everytime I bring him in late. Soon, they will be giving me the lecture about lateness and the impact this has on learning. Yikes, please help. I am stresed and terribly worried about what to do the next school day.
    Alana Post

  4. Mel

    I read your response to Zhenia with interest. I have three kids, aged 4, 7, and 9. We have fallen into the pattern that I do not seem to be able to get them out the door without blowing up. I like your suggestion of the coffee and the newspaper. But how do I deal with the fact that they are at different developmental stages and often it is just one child not cooperating? My 9 year old is actually the hardest. She is never deliberately defiant — she is just very distracted and too busy singing and dancing to get ready. This also has the effect of distracting the younger ones. My 7 year old is more conscientious and gets very stressed by the idea of being late, although lately she has been dawdling too. My 4-year old is usually pretty efficient about getting ready — (she dresses herself and does her own hair) — but has the odd morning of refusing to cooperate completely. My 4-year old doesn’t know how to read time yet. How do I let her know what time it is without micromanaging and shouting time warnings at them? Do I quietly tell them a couple of times what time it is: e.g. “it is 8 o’clock and it is time to get dressed and do your hair? It is 8:25 and time to put on your coats and boots?” Should I just say this to the 4-year old? Or do I just go through the motions of getting myself ready and hope they will figure it out? And how do I deal with the fact that two of them are suffering the consequences of the other child’s actions? Do I let them know that we are trying a new method or just launch right it? Thanks!!

  5. Alyson Schafer

    I suggest that you hold a family meeting and ask the 3 kids about how they’d like to be helpful getting out the door on time. They may like the suggestion of time prompts – or – they may set their own rule of no TV until everyone is ready to go. You can ask, “what should happen if some are ready and others are not?”. I can share with you that the person who is being non-coperative is sticking it to the one that is the most affected. Sounds like the 9 yr old has some reason to want to retaliate on their 7 yr old sib. I am guessing the 7 yr old is the one who is usually the “good one” and the older child is the one more likely to cause problems in the family? Just a guess! If you “put them in the same boat” and don’t concern yourself with who is ready and who is not and treat them like a “pack” then they themselves will learn to motivate one another to be speedier and helpful. If you get involved – its perceived as taking sides – you’ll never win in that game!!! Don’t go there!!! If the 7 yr old complains her 9 yr old sister is making her late say ” I am sorry you are having issues with your sister – you really need her help – doesn’t seem she wants to give it. I wonder what is bothering her or how you can encourage her to help you?” Good Luck!


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