However much I try, my seven-year-old daughter just doesn’t get ready for school or even an outing on time. Scolding, taking her late to school, punishment — nothing seems to help. Invariably, the entire school bus is waiting for her in the morning. Sometimes I feel she enjoys watching my frustration. Is this her way of getting attention? Can you help?
You’ve probably lost track of the number of times that you say, “Hurry up”, “come on”, “it’s getting late”. And sometimes, the more you rush your children, the slower they become. This is an ongoing problem with many kids, and a highly exasperating situation for the parent. There are many adults, too, who do the same. With adults who are unpunctual and habitually make people wait, one can be fairly sure that some kind of “invisible factor” is at work.
Daily grind: Don’t hurry your child. JUPITERIMAGES, INDIA
With kids, other reasons operate most of the time, especially when it comes to getting ready for school. It’s very likely that you have watched her actions to understand what takes so much time. Focus on what part of her getting-ready routine takes the maximum time, and find a way to bypass that part. For instance, postpone baths to the evening or don’t insist on her downing that glass of milk before school. Avoid getting her to finish some non-essential chore in the morning. While you may think that she will not learn some basic habits and responsibility if you “let her off the hook”, I’m just talking about not insisting that they get done in the time before she has to leave for school. One parent, who had got a small tub with two turtles for his son on the understanding that the child would do some basics — such as feeding them and cleaning out their water — found that he had to let go of that as part of the child’s morning routine. However, he did shift this cleaning-feeding time to later in the day, so that he could insist that the child does it — but it did not become one more battle in the morning “getting ready” time.
Second, a lot of kids dawdle and drag their feet in the morning because there is either a specific issue at school or a generalized reluctance to go. Be sure to find ways to know what’s going on at school. Bullying, teasing, friendships that are still forming but shaky, being talked to in a certain way by teachers — hurtful things are aplenty in schools. While most kids take these in their stride, perhaps your daughter needs to express these to you — try finding time (not in the mornings!) when she can talk about these things.
Third, perhaps you need to introduce a more regular routine to her day, particularly a fixed winding down time on school nights. Finish with bag-packing, clothes to wear, the night before.
Fourth, right now, her not being there is, to her, your problem, not hers. You have to have the nerve to let her miss school by missing the bus, and in this way face the consequences. Take her teacher into confidence, and tell her to cooperate with you till you can sort this issue out. Don’t appear overwrought and frantic for her to get there in time. Relax, give her reminders at the right time, put her food on the table in time, and don’t invest so much energy in her getting out in time. Get her to invest that energy. This is difficult, and parents fear that their kids will then totally dawdle and do nothing (for the rest of their lives!). But that doesn’t happen. It’s more likely that she will get it all together, once she feels that it’s not your problem any more.
The problem with a reward-punishment approach for something like this is that it still remains your problem. And by the age of 7, she needs to begin to take responsibility — however heavy-handed that word sounds — in small ways, for her actions.
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