Early starts at distant work make for alarm clocks and morning rush in our house.

A 4 year old child and two adults have around an hour to get washed, dressed and fed to leave at 7am.

To my son there is no motive or reason to get ready in the morning - he claims not to be bothered by kindergarten, and doesn't appreciate the time pressure his parents feel.

As a rule, he will not dress himself, finds endless distractions, and generally tests his ability to say no ("get your clothes on, we have to go":"No"/"What are you going to put on first, pants or vest?":"Neither"), make noise and aggravate his parents. Normally this behaviour would put him on the naughty step for 4 minutes - this is the one thing we don't wish to do in the mornings as it makes us even later!

So, I"d like to hear tips/suggestions and experiences as to how you make a four-year old hurry up in the morning.*

I'm not sure my question was clear, so feel free to ask for clarification

*Obviously I'm aiming to avoid a shouting match/raising blood pressure/having to wake up even earlier - long working hours puts us all to bed later than we'd like, so I'd like to adapt the patterns we use in the family to ensure we all leave for work/kindergarten less flustered and on time!

  • 1
    Miracles happen - this week we changed nothing, yet he was ready and dressed every day without delay. Naturally, after two days of this, we praised the new behaviour a great deal, which likely helped, but so far, we have a wealth of options open to us, and a bit of time to choose our technique…
    – Edd Turner
    Aug 28, 2011 at 18:37
  • 1
    And again today! It's his 4th Birthday, and as a 'birthday surprise' he got dressed for us. Wow!
    – Edd Turner
    Aug 29, 2011 at 6:41

6 Answers 6


The idea here is not to teach him to do what you tell him the first time .. that gets old fast, for both of you. The idea is to teach him to do what needs to be done without having to be told. He is old enough for that.

First, rise early enough that the morning routine is not hurried. Suck it up. As it is now, you are setting yourselves up to fail. The kid is 4 ... some dawdling is to be expected, as is opposition and testing of boundaries.

Then, prepare with him before bed in the evening for the next morning. Tidy his room, lay out his clothing, place his brush/comb and toothbrush on the bathroom counter. Get his school bag packed and place it by the door. Do the same for yourself. Then in the morning, he has a "roadmap" for what needs to be done, and should be able to do it with minimal nagging from the parents.

As he makes progress, reward it. Perhaps he gets to pick the music in the car. Or perhaps he get 15 minutes of watching the boob tube. Perhaps he gets to choose breakfast. Just something to let him feel rewarded. Over a few months he will work through the whole morning routine, and it will be habit.

Finally, some general advice ... when being difficult becomes defiance, it must be dealt with as defiance. Respond to it immediately and harshly. The boy is not dumb .. he has probably figured out that you won't discipline in the morning, and is taking advantage.

  • 2
    Boob tube? I assume your not advising porn on the TV, but what do you mean by "boob tube" Aug 24, 2011 at 6:31
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    An old USA expression for television .. the "tube" (as in Cathode Ray Tube) that turns people into "boobs" ---> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – tomjedrz
    Aug 24, 2011 at 16:38
  • +1 for not rushing and the boob tube...loved that expression growing up
    – MichaelF
    Aug 26, 2011 at 12:46
  • Good answer, but i always thought a boob-tube was a stretchy sleeveless, strapless top that goes over the boobs and leaves belly and shoulders exposed :-)
    – Ivana
    Mar 2, 2018 at 19:46
  • @Ivana .. that's a tube top, every teen-aged boys favorite garment.
    – tomjedrz
    Mar 4, 2018 at 2:05

Wake up earlier.

This will probably mean moving the child's bedtime earlier as well; the difference between a 4yo who's slept 11 hours vs. 12 hours is amazing. I've fought the early-morning-get-everybody-ready battle as well, and the best tactic I have is to get yourself ready, then get them ready. My kids definitely have their own pace, and can only be hurried so much before they (or I) melt down.

Use a carrot.

What really worked for us was telling my 4yo "The faster you get ready, the more time you have to do [fun project at the dining room table]!" He's 5 now, but can get himself dressed and downstairs in 10 minutes, so that he'll have 15 minutes to color before we leave. The first time this happens, say something like "Wow! You got ready so fast we had time to do something fun this morning! Wouldn't it be cool if that happened every morning?"

  • 2
    +1 for the carrot. Our son had his first taste of having to be ready for the bus this summer. With an 8am pickup time he had to be out of bed way earlier than he was used to. The idea of being able to sit on the stoop and blow bubbles while waiting for the bus made a huge difference in his mood.
    – cabbey
    Aug 25, 2011 at 17:31

Make it fun

Turning activities into games can sometimes help provide that motivation.

The easiest game is to make it a race, but that's probably a bad idea for a number of morning rituals (eating breakfast, brushing teeth, etc.). It might be an option for getting dressed, though (e.g. "Little boys who don't get dressed fast enough get tickled!").

You can use the rest of the family's routine as check points to prompt your son. You can also use timers to help remind him of the pace. If you normally take 10 minutes to shave, brush your teeth, floss, etc. after getting out of the shower, set an 8 minute timer to give your son a 2 minute warning to prepare for the next step. If you help him put on his shoes once you're done with your ablutions, the timer reminds him that he needs to have his socks on before you get there.

If you give him a choice, and he does not choose an acceptable option ("What are you going to put on first, pants or vest?":"Neither") make the choice for him, and then quickly move on to the next topic ("okay, we'll put on your vest first. What would you like for breakfast today?").

The biggest point, however, is to find a pattern that works, and then make it a routine.

  • ab·lu·tion Noun /əˈblo͞oSHən/ The act of washing oneself. Aug 23, 2011 at 8:53

Tell him he is doing better than yesterday .. for very little improvement as well .. also tell him some other children are worse than him when it comes to getting ready on time. Children like the feeling that they are good. And they can easily form negative impression about themselves when parents say something like 'you can never be on time'. Their little minds assume that to be true and then they may subconsciously stop attempting for being on time.


As others mention, going to bed on time and waking up early is important. What's made a huge difference for us is using an app called KidToDo. We use it for the morning routine, as well as checklists when our kids back from school. My kids are slightly older (6 and 9) but it is designed for pre-readers too. The app lets a parent take photos of all the things your kid needs to do. The kid then checks the items off and gets a sticker at the end. Works like a charm!

It is currently only available for the iPad though.


Be strict, make sure you go trough the steps of getting ready everyday in the same order. Punish him for 4 minutes if you have to a couple of times. Get out of bed 4/8 minutes earlier then normal for this and explain to him why you're hurrying.

Make sure he has to hurry on the weekends as well at least till he is fast/compliant enough. Make sure the kid gets enough sleep every night and enough attention during the day so that the morning period is not his way of 'getting' attention.

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