As best I can tell, my daughter sometimes hates getting ready for school. To be clear, she doesn't hate going to school, but the morning routine itself. What's frustrating about this is that it is absolutely not consistent; some mornings she wakes up and is a perfect angel and does all the things she needs to do in order to get ready.

Other mornings, its a slow (or sometimes quick) build to an inevitable conclusion. Usually the steps are we urge her to do something, and she says 'no'. We push a bit harder and either she doubles down on the 'no' or we get what I'd call malicious compliance wherein she does it extremely slowly. This usually escalates at a speed which is kind of dependent on just how much time we have to get out the door. The level that it often escalates to is that she hits a full meltdown and starts biting, kicking, and screaming pretty much anybody within proximity and if no one is in proximity she'll move to put someone in proximity. Furthermore, she starts getting exceedingly contrary that trying to talk her down is mostly worthless unless you're good with getting bit, kicked, and screamed at a volume that'll make your ears ring.

We've tried the following things, but there hasn't really been any kind of consistent success with any of them:

  1. Making Lists - I strongly suspect that she has ADHD like myself and in an effort to help her, she and I wrote out a list of things that she has to do each morning as follows:
  • Go potty
  • Brush her teeth
  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Get her hair brushed

There are additional subtasks to every one of those items, but I felt like if the list was too long it was going to feel overwhelming.

  1. Ongoing Punishments - Once she escalates to punching and hitting, I'll put her in her room for timeout. This isn't a great solution because she'll usually start knocking over everything in her room that she's able to; which is most things except the stuff I've mounted to the wall. Generally, I dump her in there and check every 5 minutes to see if she's burned off enough steam to calm herself down. Some days, this can take a really long time and she's been upwards of an hour late to school because of it.

I do tend to make these punishments ongoing because I generally can't make her clean things up now, but will make her do so later in the day after school's done. Additionally, I will sometimes take away other privileges for a few days (i.e. can't play with her tablet for 2 days).

  1. Self Calming - Sesame Street along with a few books she likes to read go over a few different useful calming techniques. What I find interesting is that my younger son seems to take really well to these, but if I try them with my daughter during the escalation phase it's likely to make her even more mad (kind of like if someone says to an adult that they're overreacting); it's almost like a shortcut to the meltdown. What's interesting to me is that I will see her sometimes doing those self-calming techniques (usually giving herself a hug) and acknowledge that she's doing a good job using that but it seems like the acknowledgement just causes her to get mad and immediately stop.

  2. Bad Mood - This was something I ripped off of the Bluey episode of the same name. In general this can only work if we have time, but even then it can become a bad feedback loop because the game has to end at some point.

  3. Changing the Order - So I've recently tried to change the order so that she eats her breakfast first and then proceeds on the list of things above. We're only on day 2 of this effort and it's been ok so far, but I have no idea what next week will be.

  4. Timers - One of the things that stood out to me is that she'll often sit on the potty for an excessive amount of time. I can't necessarily begrudge this, I figure it's part of her wakeup process; but it will easily go on for 20+ minutes if someone doesn't intervene. Something we've tried is telling her that we're setting a 5 minute timer and then she has to get up. This hasn't felt like it works as the timer dings, and she's just like, "Daddy the timer's done!" but this doesn't actually motivate her to wipe, get off, flush, pull up her pants, and wash her hands.

  5. Routines - We had tried the idea of a strict routine, but this straight up doesn't work because when the kids wake up on their own is anywhere between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM. Something else we'd tried that really didn't work was her to wake whenever she wants, but no later than an hour and fifteen minutes before school so we'd have time for the routine. The goal being that if she has to gun through her routine, she won't have any downtime to get complacent. We were about 30 minutes late with this one.

Part of the problem feels like myself. Both of my kids will love to have my attention and I love to give it to them, but on the same note I have to get to work; and the later I get to work the later in the day I will get home. But on the same note, my wife can't easily handle both of my kids if my daughter is having a meltdown as she's prone to do.

I'm kind of at a loss for what else we can practically do at this point. Are we doing the 'right' things? Is this normal for a 4-year old, and if not, what else can we do?

  • How exactly did you eliminate the school itself as the thing that causes or triggers your daughter’s behavioral issues? Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 3:02
  • Does she have nightmares? Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 21:53
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    @TimurShtatland she's only in pre-school now and is not the most reliable witness, however, she hasn't expressed any problems with her teacher nor her classmates. Also, when we arrive at school for drop-off her general reaction is to push us aside so she can get in as quick as possible. Finally, we spoke with her teacher about things and understand that she seems to have a lot of fun at school, enjoys playing with the other kids, and is an active participant in various activities. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 14:42
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    @AndrewMorton so if we ask how she slept last night, EVERY time, she will say she had nightmares. But she offers no specifics, almost never wakes up at night, and when she does it's usually because she's not feeling well. I'm not entirely convinced she actually knows what a nightmare is, just she heard it's a thing that can happen when you're sleeping so she's just defaulting to it. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 14:45
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    @AndrewMorton her brother's 2, so he's an even less reliable witness. But I think it's doubtful that she's up half of the night. I usually check on her a few times between bedtime for her and when I go to bed around midnight and usually she's splayed on a weird angle, hugging a stuffed animal, and breathing softly (as opposed to snoring which could be indicative of sleep apnea). Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 15:49

4 Answers 4


One of the most useful things I learned with regards to being on time for things, as I raised my children (8 and 10 now), is this: don't worry about being on time today. No matter what it is, don't worry about this instance of tardiness. Stressing about this instance is the absolute best way to make sure that you are late this time - and maybe next time, too. Instead, take this instance as it comes, be positive and not stressed about timeliness, and instead use it as a learning experience.

This approach leads to two possible paths:

  • If this is a thing I care about, then leave plenty of time. If we've got tickets to the Opera and I need to drop the kids off at the babysitter, I'd better make sure that time is set up for 20-30 minutes of leeway (or whatever the maximum possible lateness is).
  • If this is a thing they care about, then just don't worry about the lateness at all. Let them know what's going on and what the consequences of lateness are - if it's a movie, let them know they might miss the start of the movie; if it's a playdate, let them know they might miss some playtime with their friend - and then just give them gentle reminders.

School is sort of in a special category here; sometimes it's something they care about, and sometimes it's something they don't care about (and so you have to). Every kid is different, but I doubt there're many kids that 100.0% of days wants to go to school, or 0.0% of days wants to go. This is helpful, in a way, because it means you can use both techniques; and also frustrating, because you don't necessarily know which technique you need today.

What I usually do - still to this day - is evaluate, after the fact, why we had trouble being on time today.

  • Is it a one time problem? Was the kid just having a really bad day? If so, then leave it alone. Kids have bad days, they have trouble sleeping and wake up tired, whatever.
  • Is it a recurring problem? Then it's time for a few things.
    • Move up the time-to-get-ready. We used to "get ready" at 7:45 for 8:00 school (we're a 5 minute bike ride away); now we "get ready" 30 minutes ahead, because we kept having issues. I let the kids know ahead of time, as the issues were occurring, that if they kept occurring we'd have to move the time up - and so we did. Had a day or two of sad/arguing/etc., but now it's just the norm.
    • Change up the order of things. This especially works if there's one "trouble" item. Let's say getting shoes on is a trouble spot. Instead of getting shoes on at 7:55 for 8:00 departure, get shoes on first thing out of bed, or at some other "earlier" time that's before something they want to do. For us, getting dressed was problematic; so now, getting dressed has to happen before any morning screen time or breakfast (no breakfast in PJs).
    • If there's still a delay, and you don't think it's a "one time" issue, remind them that if they're consistently late, we'll need to move up the time further. This is especially helpful if there's something fun in between getting up and going to school - for us, it was "morning screen time", which is allowed to take up the period between [waking up, getting dressed, and doing their morning chores] and [breakfast and going to school]. If they wake up at 6, dressed/etc. by 6:15, then they have until 7:30 to play - over an hour! That's pretty rare, but it's a fun treat when it happens, and usually they get at least 10-20 minutes worth.

This worked really well for us; we are basically never late for school now, and haven't been meaningfully late for years. What's key though is to not stress about this day - because that stress makes it less likely to be on time.

  • To clarify, regarding the time-to-get-ready time, are you the one whom is keeping track of this or are the kids? One of my concerns is my daughter is still learning how to tell time and I think she easily loses track of time (which is really common with ADHD). Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 19:20
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    Mixture, more me earlier on, but as the age up it becomes more them. 7:30 hits, a quick reminder to shift to next thing. If that’s difficult, then give them space to process - plenty of time built in! - and then another reminder. If it’s consistently problematic, then a warning that we will change the getting ready time to earlier next time, and follow through. (Also as a carrot - if they’re consistently ready early, I can offer to move the time back).
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 19:23

I would try to avoid escalation to the point of punching, hitting, etc., at all costs. Punching and hitting sets up patterns that are really not good. Of the five bullets, are there one or two that would be a disaster if they didn't get done? My guess is, peeing before leaving the house would be the one thing that would be essential. For the others -- you can pack some food to be eaten after school drop-off, hand keep an extra toothbrush at school. Going to school with messy hair isn't the end of the world. You can even pack clothes to be changed into at school. (You would need to get on the same page ahead of time with someone at school, though, e.g. teacher, nurse, teaching assistant....)

Here is a technique which gives the child the opportunity to choose between controlling her own body and an adult controlling her body. Here's the set-up: "Rachel, it's time to finish up in the bathroom. I'm going to count to 3, and then I'm going to help you move along [help you take the next step]." Then comes the counting: "One, two, three." Count slowly -- allow at least one full second between counts. Use the same rhythm each time. The two parents should approximately synchronize the counting tempo. The counting has to be slow enough to allow her time to understand what's going on and make her choice. Now comes the last step: if you get to "three," then at that point, do the thing for her, e.g. lift her to standing position, wipe her off, flush for her, lift her to the stool for washing hands at the sink, whatever the next step is. Use a neutral tone of voice. No fanfare.

It's best to use this technique on a day when you have the time to do it with patience and consistency. Each next step needs a new set-up and count -- because she needs to be given a new opportunity each time to choose to control her own body rather than an adult controlling it for her. Please don't use this technique at a time when you might descend into anger. This technique is absolutely incompatible with getting angry. If you don't have the necessary calmness and patience on a given day, then detach yourself emotionally, explain, "I have to get to work early today, so I'm going to help you get ready for school this time." Then pare the routine down to the absolute minimum and pick her up when necessary. If she becomes angry, remain detached and just keep moving. If you feel a need to explain anything (e.g. how you feel), do it later in the day or another day. Think of yourself as a caregiving robot.

I will explain a few more aspects of the technique. Let's say you need her to move from Point A to Point B. Think like a sheepdog. See if you can walk around to get behind her -- facing the direction you need her to go. After you do the set-up, stay quite still while you are counting. Then, if she has not started to move by the number "three," then at that point go decisively but calmly into action. You may be able to herd her to go in the desired direction. If not, you can pick her up and move her. Or you can take her by one hand and put your other hand on her waist or back, to propel her into movement. No drama, please.

Don't be at all judgmental if she chooses not to control her own body.

I learned this technique from a wonderful preschool teacher. My child has significant neurological differences and this technique was a lifesaver for us.

Eliminate all punishment and instead catch her being good -- give her some short, meaningful praise when deserved. The important thing here is some gentle warmth. (Don't gush.)

This technique can also be used when you need her to hand something over to you. "Rachel, please give me the [book, knife, etc.] by three, or I will take it from you." Hold out your hand, palm up, for her to put the object into. Keep your hand still while you're counting. Stop counting as soon as she complies, and then say, "Thank you." The counting must be slow, in the usual rhythm. Once you and she have gotten the hang of this, she will likely ALMOST ALWAYS hand the object over to you herself before you get to "three."

It's important that you help her start to regulate her behavior. And you must model regulated behavior.


You've got a really busy morning. Especially if those categories have sub-lists. What's essential? Going potty. Maybe brush teeth. Everything else is optional. If getting dressed in the morning is too hard, your daughter can wear her next-day clothes to bed. Maybe give her the option the night before. Or let her go to school in pajamas.

Another technique I've heard about, but never had to implement myself, is to pick the 3 or 4 essential things, and use a timer for those. Then it is not you as a parent imposing some arbitrary deadline, it is the timer. So, if she is slow to eat, and doesn't eat her whole breakfast, too bad, timer went off. If she is slow to dress because the timer went off, too bad. This technique should only be used for 3 or 4 things, but there shouldn't be more than 3 or 4 in the morning. A good carrot for being ready early is something that she wants to do - maybe snuggle and read with you on the couch? Draw for a few minutes (where you prominently put her "early morning" drawings on the wall, so she can see and feel proud of them).

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    I dunno, those five things don't comprise a "really busy morning." I'm not sure what you propose if she's too slow to dress? Send her to school half-dressed? Letting her go hungry at school is a bit different than going hungry at home. Now her teachers are dealing with a pissed-off kid who can't eat when they realize they're hungry, and it may be hours until lunch. I would worry sending her to school hungry won't teach the right lesson here. Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 5:34

The biting, kicking, hitting, and destroying things is not normal for a kid this age. Go to a family therapist and get help, and also take her to her pediatrician and get their help. This is way beyond anything that you can possibly deal with using a normal parent's knowledge and normal parenting techniques. It may be that she's experiencing abuse that you don't know about. If so, then the therapist has training in finding out what's happening. Or she may have a physical or mental health problem that needs to be treated. If so, then the doctor is the one who would be able to start that detective work. You speculate that this may be ADHD, but you don't have the training to make that diagnosis or to know whether ADHD can cause this kind of powderkeg violence.

It doesn't make sense to talk about this extremely violent behavior as if it's just an issue that makes it hard to get out the door on time. It's the problem. When you have a problem this serious, there is no reason to think that it will be something that can be solved in the minutes you have to spare in the morning when you're in a hurry. And in fact, you've tried that, and it hasn't worked.

  • I mention the ADHD because I have it and while I'm not qualified to make a clinical diagnosis, I am qualified to observe parallels in behaviors I exhibited as a kid compared to what I see in her. Violence isn't uncommon in ADHD because it's the result of when you're struggling to do something and can't because you lack the serotonin to will yourself to do it. That said, this violence isn't something she exhibits elsewhere, she does it at home and probably because she feels most comfortable expressing her frustrations with her parents, which is a counterintuitive good thing. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 14:58

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