I'm very frustrated at this moment.

I have 2 sweet sons (7 and 2 years old), and especially now during the winter holidays (we're all at home together, no school/kindergarden) we could do a lot of nice things together, but it's nearly impossible with them as they are dawdling and do not get ready for anything.

It starts in the morning - I want them to have a quick breakfast/toilet/bathroom for getting ready for activities.
Instead they start playing something, ignore me, if they then finally are sitting for breakfast, it them takes ages to finish and it's nearly lunch time, until they are ready for doing something else.

The same with getting dressed for going outside (especially time consuming in fall/winter time, if it's cold or wet outside) or even getting dressed in the morning: it takes a very long time and drives me mad each time. And you can imagine that there are many other daily things to do, where we have similar problems.

I'm sure they/we absolutely need outdoor activities with fresh air/running around etc. And we do much too few of it because I just don't have the energy/motivation to push the children getting ready.

My frustration is constantly increasing and I'm now at a point where I think: I say once what nice things we could do today. If then they are not motivated enough to get help getting ready by themselves, we just don't do the activity.

As I said that finally leads to all of us staying at home mostly, the children are playing "something" for themselves and I'm feeling frustrated and incapable of having nice activities together with my children.
And for sure it also leads to conflicts, as they have a lot of extra energy, they can't get rid of playing inside.


I think that such things can also lead to vicious circles as children might sense that their parents are not satisfied/ happy and then show strange (and unfortunately often "bad" behavior) as a response which makes things even worse.

I had a similar question some months before 6yo wears down people by dawdling and endless discussions - how can parents help?, the current one is more about how I can get a positive attitude for myself, as I see that I'm already expecting their un-cooperatice behavior and very quickly will just resign and stop/avoid any outdoor activities with them.

  • 2
    I just finished reading 1-2-3 Magic, suggeseted by anongoodnurse. It has a great section on how to motivate "start" behaviors, such as getting ready for things. I highly recommend it. The book isn't just about how to handle your children, it also has suggestions for parents' mindsets and attitudes. If I were to write you an answer it'd simply be paraphrasing those sections. It's a quick read.
    – user11394
    Dec 30, 2014 at 23:58

5 Answers 5


I hear your frustration! I have a 5 year old daughter who is slower than molasses waiting on Christmas. The mornings have turned into a routine for us though. She used to get up and want to watch a show on TV before getting breakfast. We quickly learned that this led to her watching her show and not eating. So we put the rule in place that she couldn't watch the TV show until she was dressed, had her bed made, and was eating breakfast. Now she gets up, makes her bed, gets dressed, and tells me what she wants for breakfast before she ever even asks to watch the TV show. She even goes so far as to remind me that she's done everything before asking.

For your situation, I would say removing the "something" that they are doing or want to do until they are ready to go will go a long way to getting them dressed and ready for the day.

Children crave structure and will follow the routine you set for them. Getting them into a routine from a somewhat unstructured morning will be more difficult. It takes time and patience on your part though. I would start off by letting them know what the new "rule" is (get dressed, eat breakfast, etc) and what the consequence(s) will be if the rule isn't followed. In your case, take away the "something" they're playing that is causing the dawdling. The most important part of this first step is the second step: follow through with the consequences.

This may be a case of "it's going to get worse before it gets better". But given enough iterations through the cycle, your kiddos should pick up on the fact that this is the routine.


I think the first step is recognizing that your desires are in conflict with your children's. You are craving some special event time, and they have been craving unstructured time. It's natural and okay to have conflicting desires with your family, just be aware the conflict exists and make a conscious choice about whose needs are going to be paramount at any point in time.

For example, you can say to yourself (and to them for that matter) that today you will let them self-determine their schedule, but tomorrow you will get ready quickly and go to the park. This makes it feel less like they are being defiant, and more like you are making a fair trade. If they dawdle on "your" day, you won't feel as bad about pushing them, because you made a conscious sacrifice for their wants yesterday.


Well I certainly identify with this one! My daughters are 3 and 6 and we get a lot of this. Not so much on school mornings but definitely on holiday mornings. It's worse in the winter because there's more coats etc to put on.

I'm assuming you're already helping the 2-year-old quite a lot, and only expecting them to do really simple things by/for themselves? I'm guessing the delays are mainly from the 7-year-old as they're expected to be more independent?

Brian's suggestion of having a prize-activity (e.g. a short TV show) ready for them if they get ready quickly is a very good one. This technique has two advantages: first, it gives them an immediate reward if they do get ready in a reasonable time, and second, if they take forever then they're cutting into their TV (or other activity) time rather than making you all late.

A few suggestions for after they've had a reasonable amount of time to get ready and you've hurried them up to a reasonable extent and you've gone beyond 'slightly late' to "I could have watched a half-hour sit-com in the time it's taken you to put on your coat" and it's just getting ridiculous:

  • If you're going by car, then just go even if they're not ready. If they've got no shoes on then pick them up and carry them to the car. Strap them in, put their winter clothes in the boot (trunk) after them, and drive off. They can put their coats/boots/scarves on when you get there. Have an idea of somewhere nearby you might stop if they decide they need the toilet as soon as the car starts moving.

  • Plan with your partner or another carer/adult, in advance, that if one child is ready at the planned departure time (or reasonably soon after it) and the other one isn't anywhere near ready, then you'll take the one that's ready on a really cool trip that they'll love, leaving the not-ready one at home to do something very boring. Make sure the trip is mind-shatteringly wonderful.

  • Go to events which have a defined start time, so you can say "if you don't hurry up, we'll be late for X" (which for some reason is more persuasive to small children than "If you don't hurry up, I'm going to go out of my mind with frustration", which you couldn't say to a 2-year-old anyway). Something like an orienteering competition, a group nature walk, or another outdoor event of some kind? Or just "we're meeting X at the playground, it would be rude to be late".

  • Particularly with the 7-year-old, try to think of some activities which will take them a little way out of their comfort zone. At that age they can start to be very sure that they know everything and can do everything and don't need to listen to you as much. For us recently our older daughter did this high ropes course with her mum and grandma, and that worked well - turns out you do need parents for help sometimes! :) And she enjoyed it very much once she had (with help) got over her nervousness. Other out-of-comfort-zone destinations for this age group can be places which are busy/loud/dark, depending on the child.

Concerning breakfast, what I tusually do is this:

  • Give them a reasonable amount of time to eat it, i.e. don't expect them to eat it super-fast. Some chatting is fine. I explain to the older one (she can tell the time) that we'll have (for example) 20 minutes to eat breakfast and then at 8:20 we'll finish breakfast and get ready to out.

  • When we're 5 minutes from the end of that time, warn them ("Eat up now, end of breakfast time in 5 minutes").

  • When we get to the end of breakfast time, tell them "End of breakfast time!". Allow them 3 more bites (we count them together) then take the bowl away together with any food it still contains. Allow them as many more drinks from their cup as they want.

This approach means sometimes they choose not to eat very much breakfast. I'm ok with that: if they were hungry they would have eaten more, they can always make it up at the next meal, and neither of them is under-weight. So that works for our family.

  • 1
    +1 for the timers, totally spaced on those! We do the "five more minutes" at home as well Dec 30, 2014 at 22:54

Thanks for posting this question! I also get tired from the constant coaxing, when my son is in that sort of phase.

Have you perhaps tried involving your older child in helping with the younger one? With lots of instructions and praise, and lots of explanations why it's important to do things such as finish breakfast. It would give him the attention that all children love, and make him involved so he'd be less likely to wander off on a random activity. And if he becomes more obedient and task-oriented, the younger one might be more likely to follow his cue.

  • 4
    +1 for getting the older sibling involved. My oldest is a huge help getting my two LO's out the door. If nothing else, he at least keeps them corralled in one spot so I can dress one then the other.
    – Jax
    Dec 31, 2014 at 2:19
  • yes, I tried that very often, but the older one is also very easily distracted (see my linked question), he understands when I explain to him, but he forgets very quickly
    – BBM
    Dec 31, 2014 at 10:30

I don't know where you live or what logistics you have to deal with, but let me suggest that you try to drop some of the constraints around doing the things you want to do. For example, if you live in a house with a yard, why not go out and play in that yard for ten or fifteen minutes even before anyone has any breakfast? Start the day with something fun for everyone, and then get into what has to be done before the day can continue?

I know very well the frustration of wrestling a toddler into a snowsuit, scarf, hat etc and then being told they need the toilet. Asking them to go before heading outside is reasonable. But if they say they don't need to go, and you're only going to be in your own yard, why not take their word for it and suit up?

Now if you have to go out of an apartment building and across the street to the park, then yes, it's a bigger deal that people must eat and use the bathroom before leaving. But since it's a holiday and there's less pressure, what can you all do together that's fun to start the day rolling? Play with toys, make a craft, whatever. At some point you stop and eat - they'll be hungry so less likely to dawdle over the food, and you'll have been aligned on other activities already so they're more likely to stay aligned with you.

Presenting the eating, dressing, washing, and so on as "things you must do so we can get to the fun stuff" can often introduce a lot of resistance. Try some fun stuff first, then the daily obligations, then some more fun stuff, and so on. It's your holiday too, so try to enjoy it instead of worrying how fast it's going by without accomplishing the things you wanted to spend it doing.

  • unfortunately, we don't have our own yard, but there would be ways to go out for a short while (but honestly, preparation for going out takes soo much time that it does not make sense IMHO to stay out for only 15 minutes).
    – BBM
    Jan 1, 2015 at 11:56
  • insisting on a regular schedule for eating/toilet is necessary for our older son because of his encopresis problems. We see now during christmas holiday time where the normally quite rigid schedules of meal times are broken completely (and there are much more sweets than normally), that we have again problems with soiled pants (after months without problems)
    – BBM
    Jan 1, 2015 at 11:58

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