I have a struggle with my four-year-old daughter almost every morning when it comes to getting out the door on time. I drop her off at childcare on my way to work, and I can’t be late. I’ve tried giving her extra time, but it hasn’t worked. She’s perfectly happy at the babysitter’s once she gets there, but this ongoing morning battle is wearing me out.
Every parent who works outside the home has to deal with this. The problem is in what you expect of your daughter. A four-year-old simply cannot organize herself to move as quickly and efficiently as an adult or an older child. She doesn’t yet have a mature understanding of time. She can’t yet remember what she has to do next at any given point. She can’t make a list on paper, let alone in her head. You have to allow plenty of time, and help her through the process.
First of all, get up earlier. If that means going to bed earlier, so be it. You need enough room in the morning for you and your daughter to enjoy this time together. It should not be full of rushing and nagging on your part, and resisting and whining on her part. Accept the fact that for several years she will just need more time in the mornings than an adult or older child might need. Help her become alert and energetic in the morning by giving her a glass of juice as soon as she wakes up (this might help for you too).
When you aren’t rushed, sit down with your daughter and make a “list” of everything that she has to do in the morning. Since she isn’t old enough to read, draw and colour a picture of each item in the order they need to be completed. For example : glass of juice, toilet, clothes, food, toothbrush, soap, coat. Enjoy preparing this together, and let her do some of the drawing and colouring. (You could also cut pictures of these things out of a magazine.) If you want, you can put boxes to check off each day beside each item. Then set aside plenty of morning time for a few days, and guide her through all these activities, checking the list with her each time to see what she needs to do next. Don’t nag or pressure her, but praise her each time she figures out what to do. If she gets distracted and starts to play, gently remind her to look at her list.
Kids this age really enjoy our presence during their daily routine. When your daughter shows signs of mastering what she needs to do, in what order, don’t just withdraw and expect her to get on with it. But you may begin to withdraw for a few minutes, for example, while she’s dressing (if she can dress herself) to prepare breakfast.
The quality of our relationship with our children is determined during these daily routines. You may just be anxious to get going, but it’s really important for your present and future relationship with your daughter that you both enjoy being together at times like this. Think of it as an investment in your future relationship.