University of Illinois Extension
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Ready To Go...Making It on Time in the Morning

It is time to leave for child care, and somehow your toddler is still in pajamas and has not eaten breakfast yet. How did this happen? What is realistic to expect from a toddler? How can you make this work best for the both of you?

A toddler is learning independence. That means he wants to do things himself. He wants to put his shoes on by himself. He may want to choose the clothes he wears. He may change his mind. You may see this as being uncooperative or even defiant, but it is a necessary step in moving from babyhood to becoming a separate person. Understanding this motive, can help your response during conflict.

Here are some steps to try:

  • Assess the situation. Why did it happen? Was there enough time or do you need to get her up earlier? Is her bedtime early enough? Did she get distracted and start playing or watching TV? Set the rule that TV is off limits until she is ready. Did you struggle with getting yourself ready also? Try getting yourself ready first before waking her, having a special toy for waiting times, or taking her to the sitter before getting yourself ready. Did she become negative and "fight" your decisions? Let her choose between two cereals for breakfast or eating now or later. Pick out two outfits and let her make a choice which she wants to wear. Is she resisting being rushed? Wake her up 15 minutes early just to tickle, giggle, and snuggle. Slow your pace and have a special story together when she is all ready.
  • Generate solutions based on your assessment.
  • Decide changes you can make. Do you need to make a change in your mood, values, or expectations? Is it okay to go to the babysitter's in PJ's or with clothes mismatched, to eat dry cheerios on the way or take it with you to the sitter? Cooperate or closely monitor your child and assist as needed. Refuse to lose your cool. Keep positive.
  • Decide changes in the situation. Can you reschedule time or the order of activities, plan transitions or modify the environment (bring out a special toy when ready to go or during waiting times)?
  • Make a plan and evaluate if it's working.

Additional tips:

  • Buy a large apron or have breakfast in pajamas if spills are a problem.
  • Buy clothes that are comfortable and easy to put on. Buy color schemes that mix and match. Bundle outfits together so the whole outfit, including socks, is chosen.
  • The night before:
    • Set the table for breakfast.
    • Prepare everything that needs to go with you.
    • Set a bedtime and ritual. Bath, book, and bed by 8:00 p.m.
    • Have two outfits ready for your child to choose from.

As you experiment, you can learn what works best with your toddler and is most effective for your situation. As your toddler nears age 3, learning to cooperate becomes important and serves as a balance for the drive to be independent.