Mornings With Toddlers: A Survival Plan

Expert tips, tricks and advice on getting your toddler to do what you want them to do Read more

mom tips mornings toddlers

Parenting challenge #874: Getting your little ones to do … well … anything. Because timeouts are really great (okay, fine: relatively effective, sometimes) for getting them to stop certain things, but when it comes time to put on their shoes or brush their teeth or proactively fulfill in a timely fashion some small request you make, repeating your request to no avail until you finally feel like you have no option but to enforce a timeout for disobeying, well … that’s a fairly exhausting addition to the morning routine, no? (Or is it just me???) We asked Wee friend, expert and family coach Brandi Davis* of Child and Family Coaching to weigh in with some specific help for those parenting moments where you need to jump-start your kid a little. 


Mornings are SO SLOW for so many moms. Any tips on how to get little ones to get through their morning routine without having to resort to raised voices, timeouts, and repeating yourself 100 times?
Yes! The first one may not make everyone happy — I, for one, am NOT a morning person. But you should try waking up earlier. Waking up just 15 to 20 minutes earlier can give everyone the time that they need to get out of the door sans meltdowns. When we are crunched for time we rush our kids and when we rush our kids they have tantrums, push back, stop in their tracks. Giving more time is the first step. Some other steps:
Lay clothes out the night before, and have your kids help with this task. Some kids really care about what they wear and will get dressed faster and without tantrums if they pick their own clothes.
Ask the night before about breakfast choices … or at least limit them. There is no time to be a short-order cook on a busy morning. No changing minds either: Your child made a choice, she needs to stick with it. It’s “eat or do not eat, but this is what ya asked for.” Tough, yes, but it will end the breakfast battles and move your morning in the end.
Put the carrot at the end. TV-watching kids CAN make getting dressed or making breakfast easier, but then it can be hard to motivate kids to do anything else. Put play, TV time, fun stuff at the END. Once teeth are brushed, breakfast is eaten, clothes are on, THEN playtime can begin. If they want to get to the playtime, they need to do their tasks in a timely manner. It’s on them. If they run out of time, they run out of time. Once kids realize that THEY are in control of their mornings, when there is less rushing and yelling, the fighting will stop and mornings will be manageable.

When you want a kid to, say, put on his shoes, and he’s not listening, or not doing it, what’s a good technique to get him to do it? Timeouts feel like not such a great motivator.
There are three methods that I like to use when a child is not listening, especially when it is a self-care or everyday request. Some are time-dependent:
Start by asking questions. “Why do you not want shoes on? What about putting shoes on is bothering you?” Sometimes you will get a great answer, “They hurt.” “I want the green ones.” “Ummm, uh, I don’t know.” (*Puts shoes on because your Jedi mind trick has confused them and thrown the norm off course.)
Stuck. (This is for when you have LOADS of time). If a child won’t put his shoes on, he is stuck in that place until the shoes are on. He can play, head out to the movies, watch a show … as soon as he puts the shoes on. If it takes 30 minutes, then he’s missed playground time since it’s now lunch. If he takes too long, his show will be over. Once again, THE CHILD are in control of his day. HE is choosing not to move on. Sometimes it is best to walk away for a bit too when using this technique try it once or twice and watch this work for you. Heads up, some kids will stand strong for an hour. Take a breath and move onto another task. You do not need to stop YOUR day because your child has chosen to stop his.
Practicing. (This is for when you DO NOT have LOADS of time) Sometimes you just don’t have time. You have to get to work, she has to get to school, and there just is no time for these shenanigans. This is when I use a technique called “Practicing.” “You seem to have forgotten how to put your shoes on. We need to go, so I am going to do it for you, but when we get home you will practice twice so you will remember next time. We all forget things.” All of this needs to be said in a calm clear way. It works because kids do not want to miss out on fun time doing something that they already know how to do. They WILL remember the episode at the end of the day because it is related (as opposed to no TV tonight because you didn’t put your shoes on). Heads up: They will be pretty mad when they get home and have to practice, but do this twice, calmly, and the next time that you have a reasonable request your child WILL listen. Only have your child do a task 2-3 times. In this instance, more is NOT more.

What’s your opinion about sticker charts and the like for “motivating” factors?
When clients ask me about charts I ask them two questions, “When will it end?” and “What will happen when there are no more rewards?” Everyone loves a little thanks now and again. If you drag your child to four stores in one morning and she was oh-so-accommodating, sure, a little thank you can be given AFTER the fact. (Hey, if I help out a friend in a big way they may thank me with flowers, a cup of coffee or glass wine. It is nice to get a thanks.) But a thanks is a different thing than a motivator.
    Our jobs as grown-ups in the lives of children is to be a mentor. To give kids the skills that they need to be successful and happy in the big wide world of pre-K, high school, and grown-up-hood. We want them to be motivated intrinsically, because helping feels good, or because they know it’s a task that they need to do, not because they get a reward. Brushing teeth, getting dressed, helping out when asked, cleaning up toys, these are a person’s responsibility. They are not achievements to be rewarded with more than a high five or, “nice job”. The fast answer is because if there are rewards for everyday requests or personal care then what happens when you ask for a favor? Run out of rewards? Get tired of spending money on this? Forget to keep track? Will the behaviors stop when the motivators are not there? Often times yes. Positive motivating factors DO exist, though … and here are a few:
More responsibility and freedom. Choosing a Friday night meal or the game for family game night. Earning the privilege to walk to a neighbor’s home alone, or having a weeknight playdate.
More free time. When a child gets right down to getting dressed, brushing teeth, doing homework, he gains some free time at the end of the morning or evening for some playtime, or an extra book before bed. Motivators are much discussed topic in my coaching sessions, and can be talked about further and in more personal detail there (or this will turn into a novel instead of a post!).

This is a lot of information, yes, but if you’re struggling with specifics, or want more, you can contact Brandi for a free 30-minute strategy session, or to book a coaching package. 


brandi davis child and family coaching

*About our expert: Brandi Davis, ACC, of Child and Family Coaching, is a certified Parenting Coach and Author of O.K. I’m a Parent, Now What? Brandi also lectures at multiple colleges, childcare centers and businesses, and has been published in several local and national publications. Through personal coaching sessions, blogs, podcasts, parent workshops, and tele-classes, she presents new strategies and solutions that parents can work into their family, guiding them on their journey to realize their personal dream of a happy, loving and cooperative family.