How To Get Your Kids Out The Door

Dear Susan,

I have battles every morning with my strong-willed eight-year-old twins. I have to deal with one argument after another, fighting to get them dressed and fed with teeth brushed so we can get out the door on time. When we finally leave the house, we're all in a terrible mood. Is there anything I can do to make it easier?

The Peacekeeper


Dear Peacekeeper,

The morning madness you're describing is one that most parents can relate to. At the very time when kids are cozy in bed, we ask them to launch into a series of actions that will ultimately result in them leaving home and hearth to spend the day doing schoolwork which, for most kids, doesn't inspire them to move quickly.

This isn't to say that children shouldn't go to school, or that they don't have fun once they're there. But it is true that most kids don't leap out of bed to start their day. What's worse: approaching them with, “If you don't hurry up, you'll be late!” may not evoke the “Oh no! I'd better get moving!” you're hoping for.

No parent feels good about resorting to strong-arm measures to get teeth brushed or shoes tied. Mornings that are reduced to parents pushing and kids resisting are an awful way to begin the day. Many add to the problem by turning on what I call “Mom TV.” If you scream, shout, threaten or bribe your kids to move faster, you may be “entertaining” them with your drama, motivating them to slow down and enjoy the “show”. What I suggest is that you call a family meeting. Use the morning situation as an opportunity to engage your twins in collaborative problem solving, a valuable life skill. Try saying:

Kids, it's clear that the mornings aren't going well. What do you think we could do to stop the shouting and fighting? What are you willing to do differently?

Brainstorm ideas together, as members of the same team, and be open to their suggestions, even if they're unrealistic. (“Let's skip breakfast, or eat it in the car so we can sleep another half an hour!”)

If they suggest something that you've tried that didn't work, give it a go anyway. If your children are part of generating a particular solution, they'll be more invested in sticking to it.

Here is a sample of a plan I helped one family create to address this problem. There are endless possibilities for what your morning routine will look like, but this will give you an idea of where to begin. At this family's meeting, the kids realized that they had to take TV and computer time out of the picture in the mornings, since it slowed them down so badly. They also decided to take their shower the night before so they could sleep later. Despite the fact that Mom and Dad had suggested many of these ideas, it wasn't until the kids were part of writing up the plan that it worked. And it worked well!

Twins' alarm goes off. It is placed across the room from their beds so they have to get out of bed to turn it off. One of them hits the Snooze button for 5 minutes.

Mom comes in to say Hi, and tells them what she's made for breakfast. (Note: One family I worked with found that when Dad offered his son a few sips of a protein smoothie when he woke up, the morning went much better; this young man needed "fuel" to help him even begin his routine.)

Dad puts on music to help energize the kids as they prepare to come downstairs.

Boys are dressed and at the breakfast table. Teeth have been brushed, beds have been made, and pajamas are on their hook. Backpack is by the front door with homework and lunch inside.

Last minute details. Shoes on and tied. Ceremonious goodbyes are delivered to the dog. Hug from Mom, who reviews that day's after school plans.

Dad walks kids to the bus stop.

Kids on the bus, headed to school.

By coming up with a plan with your children, you'll have a better chance of engaging their participation. Make sure that you acknowledge any improvements, even if the morning doesn't go perfectly. Your children may still wish they could stay home with you, but if you try these ideas, you'll be able to send them off with that delicious feeling of love that will make you all eager to reconnect at the end of the day.

Yours in parenting support,

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.