I know this sounds like a small problem compared to what a lot of parents write you about. But every morning there is a war at my house over trying to get my 3 1/2-year-old to put on her shoes and socks. I have to chase her and then practically hold her down to get them on and it makes me tense all morning just thinking about the fight we're going to have. Why does she have to make it so difficult?
Your problem is one of the most common (and challenging!) ones that parents write me about, so please don't feel that it is not important. Daily battles over ordinary tasks like getting shoes on can wear down even the most patient parent. Here are my thoughts:
Don't take it personally. Little children have very little say over their lives. They're told what they can eat, when they can eat it, where they have to go, who they can play with and when they have to go to bed, all while trying to establish a sense of independence. It makes sense that your daughter throws her heart and soul into resisting your effort to force her to do something as simple as getting her shoes on. It is one of the few areas where she can assert her will! Taking it personally will only trigger you more, so instead, see her behavior as a result of other factors influencing her to resist.
Parent from connection. Many parents tell me that their mornings rush by in a blur, packed with countless tasks that have to be done in a hurry to get kids to school on time. Children care far more about how things feel than how quickly the minutes on the clock are ticking by. If you invest three or four minutes connecting with your daughter in the morning, she will naturally be inclined to do what you ask. Make time for a snuggle, a special morning song or a goofy dance together before you try to enlist her in checking things off your To Do list, and she'll be more in the mood to cooperate.
Dig for the real problem. Does your daughter want to go to school, or does she see the act of getting her shoes on as the final step to leaving home, where she would rather stay? Many children resist going to school even when they're happy once they get there. If you suspect she has some ambivalence about leaving you -- and she hasn't expressed it -- explore that with some gentle conversation to see if it is contributing to her defiance.
Come alongside, rather than AT her. When you push against someone, they instinctively push back; it's human nature. Rather than chasing her down to do what you want, start by acknowledging her objections. "I know you'd like to go to school without your shoes -- your toes really like to have lots of room to wiggle! Sometimes shoes don't feel that comfy. And I wonder if you're wishing you could stay home with Mommy..." By letting her know that you empathize with what she is experiencing, she will be more receptive to your requests.
Don't be needy. Children quickly sense when we are are desperate for them to do something. Outside of attachment, our neediness "announces" the specific way they can effectively push our buttons or test the limits. Avoid coming across as frantic when you ask her to put her shoes on. Be quiet, confident and matter of fact. If you have implemented the other tips I've mentioned and she still throws a fit, don't make it a big deal or create a power struggle. Just carry her shoes to the car and put them on once she gets to school.
Get playful. Children are wired to have as much fun as possible. Use that instinct! Get silly and try to convince her to put your shoes on while you attempt to wear hers. Enlist her stuffed animals to race you to get their Kleenex "shoes" on their feet before your daughter. Put on a song and challenge her to get her shoes on before it's finished. By lightening the mood and introducing laughter, your daughter may forget her need to be resistant!
When children feel connected to us and our requests aren't delivered with desperation, they naturally want to cooperate rather than resist. Hopefully, these tips will help you put an end to those morning battles over shoes so you can both start your day with more peace and connection.
Please check out Susan's upcoming Parenting With Presence telesummit with a wonderful lineup of speakers, including Arianna Huffington, Jane Goodall, Harville Hendrix, Glennon Melton, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Jon Kabat Zinn.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
Do you have a question for the Parent Coach? Send it to email@example.com and you could be featured in an upcoming column.