Hurry up! You'll Be Late for School.

“Hurry up! You’ll Be Late for School.”

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Watching her dawdle with a sock is a hair-raising experience

It’s 7:30 A.M. You’re rushing to get your four year old to school on time. You walk into his room and find that he is still lounging around in front of the television set in his pajamas, ignoring your one-millionth plea to get dressed. Finally, out of desperation, you turn off the set, he bursts into tears, and you end up screaming at the top of your lungs!

At moments like this, it may seem that your child is simply being obstinate, and that in other homes in your neighborhood parents are managing their kids much better than you. But you really can relax. Moving a young child through the daily routine is one of the hardest tasks for all parents. While you are stressed by time pressures and your needs, your child seems to show no concern at all. Watching her dawdle with a sock or eat her breakfast at a snail’s pace, makes getting anything done a hair raising experience. Why doesn’t your child co-operate?

One of the reasons why it is difficult for you to get your child out the door each morning, is that developmentally small children have a slow internal clock. They eat, get dressed and walk at a snail’s pace. Their motor skills simply cannot be sped up. (However, when they are running away from you at bedtime, they do seem to move rather quickly!)

Young children also live in the here and now. When your child awakens, he does not worry about what he has to do next, the way you do. He immediately jumps into a pleasurable activity and would rather relax and have fun playing with his toys than leave the house. (That is why it really is not easy for him to respond to your need to get to work on time.)

Though these aspects of a young child’s development may make it difficult to get him to follow a schedule, they also give him the wonderful ability to walk down the street and take a moment to smell the flowers or watch a leaf floating in a puddle. (Sadly, adults do not usually have the time.)

As a parent, it is crucial to accept her nature, while managing these developmental issues in a positive way. If you explode at a young child for moving slowly, or label her defiant or bad, it will make her feel ashamed for being who she is. It is really self-defeating to yell, “Hurry up,” to a young child, when she cannot. It can actually make you both more irritated and cause unnecessary battles. Though older children learn more about schedules and handling time as they grow, many of these issues and approaches still apply.

Although there is no magic wand that will wave away this problem, it will help if you understand the nature of children, readjust your expectations, (your child cannot easily move to the beat of your drum) and learn some important coping techniques to keep things moving along.

You can work around these issues by waking your child earlier to give him extra time or by getting ready before your child wakes up, so you will have more patience. If possible, you might also consider asking for help from a family member, or hiring a teenager to help you out in the mornings.

Try to lighten your morning load by making lunches, laying out your child’s clothing and having all the book bags packed by the door (and your keys) before you go to sleep.

In the morning, rather than allowing your child to watch her favorite shows as soon as she rises, set up the following schedule: she must get up, go to the toilet, brush her teeth, dress herself, eat breakfast and only then, can she turn on the TV or play with her toys. (Many families allow their kids to watch TV or videos only on the weekend.)

It is important to acknowledge how hard it is for him to stop a fun activity. You might say, “I know it’s hard for you to stop playing with your legos. Let’s put the skyscraper you are building up on your shelf, so you can finish it the minute you get home.” (Children tend to fight you less if you show an understanding and respect for their interests.)

If breakfast usually turns into an upsetting battle each day, hand her a muffin to eat in the way, or arrange for her to have breakfast at school.

It is a good idea to stay nearby to move your child along. If he is not putting on his shoes and socks, you might sit next to him and start helping him. Tell him, “I’ll put one sock on. You put on the other.” It is advisable however, not to stand over him every minute. It can be as exasperating as watching a pot of water come to a boil.

Being creative and motivating your child forward is very effective. Children will become active if something appeals to them. For instance, if you say, “Let’s see who can get dressed faster, you or me?” or suggest, “Let’s hurry. Sophie must be waiting for you in the dress up corner,” your child might surprise you with a sudden burst of activity.

It is normal for parents to feel stressed by time pressures and become exasperated with their kids. It is best to calm down before you react. As you cope with your anxiety or anger over your child’s delays and resistance, take deep breaths, count to ten before you respond, or leave the room for a few minutes, to maintain your composure.

Getting kids launched for the day, is a challenge that all parents face with their children, young and old. If you prepare yourself for the inevitable, stay calm and find creative ways to manage the situation, it will become less of a battle each day. The older your child gets the more self-motivated she will be, especially when it comes to racing to meet a friend or getting to a team practice on time.