Though kids don’t mean to mess up our schedules, dawdling is their way of feeling in control and getting us to focus on them. What’s the solution? If you can give a little to meet your child’s needs, you’ll gain a lot towards meeting yours-and it won’t even take that much time. Here are ten five-minute strategies that will make a difference between misery and motivation.
1. Be understanding: Acknowledge that what your child is doing is important to her. Tell her, “I wish we had more time to play with your dolls. It looks like fun. But right now, your friends are waiting for you at school.”
2. Remove obstacles: Sometimes kids dawdle because they feel overwhelmed. If it takes your child forever to choose a bedtime story, clear the bookcase of titles she never asks for. That way, she can focus on a few favorites. Disorganization is another roadblock. If your seven-year-old is always running late because she can’t find her homework or her sneakers, help her pack her bag the night before and put it by the door.
3. Give a warning: Children cannot stop what they’re doing on a dime. Being able to anticipate an event helps them switch gears. A gentle reminder that your child has five more minutes before having to put his blocks away won’t elicit an “Oh goody,” but it’s far less upsetting than being told he has to drop everything right now.
If a reminder doesn’t work, let an egg timer do the dirty work for you. Tell your child that you’re setting the timer for five minutes. When the bell goes off, it’s time to wrap up the activity. If your child protests, remain firm: “I know you’d like to color longer, but the bell rang. Time’s up.”
4. Play beat the clock: For younger children, use the timer to race against time. Tell your toddler or preschooler: “I bet you can’t wash your face, get into your PJs and get under the covers before the timer goes off!” Chances are, he’ll try to get everything done in no time flat.
5. Turn it into a game. Connecting with your child’s playful side is likely to be more successful than issuing ultimatums. One mother I know plays department store in the morning to avoid a half-hour delay while her four-year-old mulls over what to wear. She pretends to be a saleslady, helping her daughter pick out that day’s outfit and admiring how she looks in it.
One mother joked that her son was “surgically attached” to his train set. Getting him to leave it inevitably turned into a power struggle, until she hit upon a lighthearted approach. “When we have to go out, I say, ‘Joe, tell your trains you’ll be right back.’ It works really well. He waves goodbye and reassures his trains that he’ll play again soon.”
6. Offer options: Let’s say your two-year-old doesn’t want to stop watching a video, even though the family needs to go out. Tell him that there are two ways to get to the car: hopping on one foot or being carried by you. When you involve him, you have a better chance of transforming your slowpoke into Sir Speedy.
7. Be positive. Instead of making threats about what will happen if your child doesn’t get moving, focus on the good stuff that will happen when she kicks into gear. You could say, “Once we get into the car, we’ll play your favorite tape,” or “As soon as you get into your pajamas, I’ll read you a story.”
8. Get them involved. Kids love to feel needed and capable, which can work to your advantage. To get a poky preschooler out the door, ask her to help you load the car. If your child resists taking a bath, ask for her help in choosing water toys. Once she’s invested in the activity, she’ll be more willing to climb in the tub.
9. Turn the tables. Let your child be the one to get you going. Instead of trying to roust your five-year-old son out of bed every morning, one mother bought him his own alarm clock and instructed him to wake her up when it went off. As soon as her son felt as if he was in charge, he stopped dragging his feet. Another way to put your child in charge is to have her check the weather each morning and tell you whether it’s a “sweater day” or a “coat day”—then she’s more likely to get dressed without a fuss.
10. Go with the flow. Once in a while, put your agenda on hold. Instead of hurrying your child home from the park, let her swing until she says it’s time to go. If you occasionally let your child set the pace, she’s more likely to cooperate when your plans don’t mesh with hers.
There’s another advantage to letting your child’s inner clock rule. When you take the time to count flower petals or follow a ladybug, you see the world through your child’s eyes—and you may discover that it’s a pretty nice view.