I’m absolutely worn out from solo parenting while the hubs is away on a work trip and C isn’t sleeping well AT ALL at night, but when a reader emails asking for advice on how I do this or that, I can’t usually tear myself away from responding. After all, I’ve done my share of desperate, 4 AM Google-ing “why won’t my baby sleep!” So, in spite of my current utter exhaustion, I’m going to share a very quick response post about how I have managed to consistently get my toddler and my 1-year out the door on time each morning since E started pre-school.
Note: In the beginning, it was REALLY F*ING HARD.
Also please note: The image of my girls above was very purposely selected to accompany this post. I studied Media Communication in college and have a very different perspective on screen time than many parents today. My girls don’t have their own tablets, but they do watch specific programs, often together because, like anything else I purposefully expose them to or encourage them to experience, I think they gain from it. And in the context of this post, screen time is an absolute ace in the hole for emergency “get out the door” on time moments, like when we were furiously packing for a family vacation and needed entertainment while we loaded the car. And finally, let me just say this: never judge another parent.
Now to answer my reader question:
My maternity leave is ending soon and my 2.5 year old runs wild around the house when it’s time to get dressed and get ready to head right down the street to day care in the morning. Do you have any tips to help get out the door in a timely manner? I have a newborn too.
My daughters are three and a half and my “baby” is now 16 months, respectively, but I was there too, and it doesn’t feel so long ago. A lot of these “tricks” I came to intuitively through trial and error, but have to credit what I learned of child development from reading Maria Montessori, Fred Rogers, and a book I read just before I had Caroline, Bringing up Bebe. Here are some of the tips and trips that worked for me to help get my toddler and baby out the door in the AM.
On her terms
I found that the more I could allow my older daughter to do and on her own terms and in her own time frame, the better. Like getting dressed, fed and any last minute playing done. It might simply take starting her, or “priming” her a little sooner than I’d expect a task to take. By priming, I just mean letting her know what is expected next in her day. We sometimes use a timer if she’s really dawdling and I turn it into a challenge — like, “there is NO WAY you win this race and get dressed before I get your sister ready.” There is a lot of horrible stage whispering-type talking happening on my part here. But little things also go along way, like making what she will wear for the day her choice — nevermind that I’m the one offering the choices. (I always wonder how long before she catches on to this one.)
Respect the Play
I also employ a “take it with you in the car” backpack trick and a “five minute before we leave, last call for play,” trick, so she can prioritize what she most wants to do and knows we are transitioning to another part of the day/activity (heading out the door) and can prepare her mind for it. Think of how many times you’re running out the door and your toddler tells you he or she just needs to color one quick picture. EVERY. TIME for us. Simply prompting her to choose: What is the last thing you want to do before we leave? helps her to prioritize, but it is important to really give this one a good five minutes or you can cause needless stress! A lot of what I do is just intuitive and respecting that her play is her world. A lot of meltdowns are avoided by not trying to enforce on her. I don’t expect her to obey me with a capital “O,” rather, I am a pretty lenient parent and make a fuss about things when they’re truly important, like holding a hand in parking lots and near streets and not ever hitting or hurting others.
Make her your ally
Another huge strategy for me is to make my daughter my “get out the door ally.” She loves to be my helper and everything she does is to “role model and teach” the baby. Imagine me stage talking — this is how I talk to the baby but I know my three year old is tuning in! She really loves it and it’s really effective. She helps me change diapers, gets my shoes ready for me and sometimes even packs a bag of toys for the baby (if I need to entertain her for a few as I make trips out to load the car up or whatnot.)
I also find that setting her up for success in the AM is huge. I’ve worked hard to re-work my girls’ wardrobe into what I’d call a “loose, “capsule-like mix and match, mostly neutral kids wardrobe for her complete with basic shoes she can slip on herself with Velcro. And all her socks are exactly the same. Being able to tell her “put your shoes on please” and knowing she can, is huge. We have also practiced getting ourselves dressed to the point she can do it on her own, though I did see a bit of a backslide with this since school started.
I made our system up and call it “marks.” For ex; I’ll say to her, “you were the best listener today — you just got three marks!” Or if she’s particularly nice to her sister and shares without prompting, I’ll call her attention to the fact that I noticed. And she’ll go add them to a small white board in the kitchen. It’s not overwrought, it gets the job done. The reward for merely filling up the board to a point we thought was good, initially was a trip to Target to choose a toy she had been wanting which worked to marvelous effect — she still talks about that day! —but more recently, I changed the reward to be that she gets to choose a date with me, her dad or one of her grandparents but she’s only ever cashed in once. I think the system in and of itself just appeals to her.
One on one time
No matter what, even if it’s only a moment or two, I make sure to have a solo few moments with my daughter in the morning. Sometimes, it’s in the bathroom (sorry! TMI). Often, it’s while I do her hair. But every morning, before the chaos of running out the door, I make sure I look into my daughter’s eyes, tell her how much I loved being with her that morning and how much I appreciate what a great helper she was to me, remind her about something from the day she was born, or something silly we laughed about the day before, and tell her that I love her. A little attention focused right on her goes a long way.
Talk About It
And finally, and often at the heart of the “get-out-the-door-in-the-AM issue, sometimes we have to directly address the fact that she doesn’t like where we’re headed. Recently, it was the doctor’s office. For weeks, it’s been school — flat out — just a hard NO on school! In talking it out, I figured out that she was terrified she was going to have shots and a finger prick at the doctor, since we’d recently had a terrible experience at an Urgent Care clinic. As far as school, NOT focusing on the negatives and completely ignoring her pleas that she doesn’t want to go or is sick, I instead focused on the pickup. I assured her I’d be the first one in line to get her — that I’d be knocking down the door embarrassing her and that she needed to make sure she gave me a HUGE hug when she saw me. Immediately, changing the subject to what hat to wear with her coat for recess and keeping her talking, and we’re out the door. Finally, some sort of treat in the car console helps too (ours are gummy worms). Not ideal, but like I said at the beginning — never judge another parent!
I hope some of this helps. It’s one of the more stress-inducing tasks for us, for sure, but front-loading as much as you can by helping your toddler to do as much as possible himself will go a long way. And having endless, endless patience. Good luck!