Living as we are in a fast-paced world, 24 hours in a day just doesn’t seem like enough time to get everything we want done. Our little ones, however, see the world very differently. Easily distracted and naturally more curious about things around them, toddlers tend to intensely focus on one activity for a long time, linger about and day dream.
Since it doesn’t help that they aren’t great multitaskers, so they get derailed from the task at hand, which frustrates parents.
The inability to transition from one activity to the next is a very common challenge for preschoolers. They lack the discipline and self-regulation to drop something they’re engrossed in to go do something else. This is why you find yourself repeating instructions to the point of being called a nag.
“Dawdling can surely be exhausting to deal with, but it's good that you see the value in these youthful explorations,” notes parenting expert Dr William Sears in his blog. “Dawdlers, tend to have two traits that can later work to their advantage: They are able to concentrate intensely, and they are able to amuse and busy themselves, so they are less likely to get bored.” Sometimes, dawdling is also a way for kids to gain a little control and attention.
However, when dawdling starts to slow down a family’s routine, it can cause quite a bit of tension and frustration for both parent and child. If you feel like your days are filled with too many “hurry up, honey”, try these simple strategies…
Always allocate extra time. Make sure you wake up with enough time to get ready yourself... But set aside ample time to get the little ones ready.
#1 Introduce a routine and stick to it
Children thrive on routine. Knowing what to expect next helps them feel safe and secure. “Stella’s morning routine is wake-up, have a small breakfast like a banana or tub of yoghurt, change diapers, wash face, brush teeth and put on uniform,” says dad Christian Tan of his 2-year-old daughter. “Doing it daily has given her mornings a lot of structure and helped her differentiate between busy weekday mornings and lazy weekends.” Tan also adds that sometimes he makes a game out of it, asking Stella if they have done everything in their routine. “It’s a great way to keep her on track when I feel like she’s losing concentration and about to embark on a completely different activity that might set us back for time.”
#2 Let them know they’ll enjoy a reward
Speaking of games… it’s safe to say that no toddler is going to turn down an opportunity to have some fun! If little Timmy is taking forever to put away his toys, tell him you’re going to race him to it ― and the winner will get to go to the playground. If Suzie is dawdling at the dinner table, remind her that her tasty dessert is just around the corner, right after she finishes her remaining broccoli. It’s amazing what a little treat can do in terms of encouragement.
#3 Give your child ample time to make the transition
Jumping from one task to the next within minutes is easy for adults, but not so much for kids. Asking junior to switch abruptly between activities will leave him feeling flustered and upset. Instead, give them a heads up ― five or 10 minutes before you’re about to leave the house or need your mini-me to start preparing for bed or bath time. “We usually let Liam know the transition that’s about to happen and give him time to say ‘bye bye’ to whatever it is he’s doing,” says mum Jacintha Roy. “If he’s watching TV, I will tell him when his last episode is coming up and give him the remote, so that he can switch the TV off himself after that.” By doing so, not only will junior have enough time to process the change, but he will also feel like he’s partly in control of the situation. And that’s very important for toddlers who are also struggling to gain independence.
#4 Build in buffer time
By now you should already know as a parent that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong when you have kids. So, always allocate extra time. Make sure you wake up with enough time to get ready yourself and have your first cup of coffee. But set aside ample time to get the little ones ready, as well as prepare their breakfast and lunches, if needed. Build in time for when your 2-year-old is feeling just a little bit clingy and wants you to carry him everywhere, or if your 5-year-old needs help putting on her shoes or wants to wear her hair differently. When you know you have time to spare, you will no longer feel stressed and actually enjoy carrying out these little tasks with no complaints.
#5 Be a good role model
We can’t reiterate enough the importance of being a good role model to your children. Kids do what you do, not what you say. No point in yelling at your brood for procrastinating or dragging their feet, when you do it yourself. If they see you taking your own sweet time to get ready and then start rushing around like a headless chicken towards the end. Or speed through traffic to “make up” for lost time. They’re key takeaway will be that dilly-dallying is fine as long as you rush at the last minute.
#6 Minimise or anticipate distractions
No point asking junior to report to the dinner table when the TV is switched on and his eyes are glued to it. Or expect him to leave his friend’s birthday party when he’s still playing with his buddies. In such scenarios, it’s best to anticipate the dilly-dallying to avoid any outbursts. Warn your little one in advance that dinner is almost ready and he will have to turn off the TV when you say so. Similarly, as you’re heading to a birthday party, explain to your child that it’s going to be hard to leave because all of his friends might still be around, but once you tell him it’s time, he has to say bye-bye to everyone.
Don’t expect changes overnight. The toddler stage is an erratic one as junior is still growing.
#7 Get down to their level
You can walk around the house yelling “hurry up, we’re going to be late” to nobody in particular for half an hour. Or you can get down to your tot’s level and look them directly in the eye when you deliver your message. By doing so, you will be able to disengage them from whatever activity they’re engrossed in and have their full attention. Talking directly to your child will also help him understand that what he’s doing is dawdling and not co-operating. When you say something like, “Dylan, it’s breakfast time, you have to be at the table eating, not playing with your toys,” junior will realise what he’s doing is the opposite for what he should be doing.
#8 Explain the consequences of dawdling
Preschoolers are old enough to understand actions and consequences. Explain to your little one how his dilly-dallying makes you feel and what happens as a result. Say something like, “When you don’t get ready in the mornings like I ask you to, mummy gets to work late and that frustrates and upsets me.” If this doesn’t work, apply a logical consequence based on your child’s ability to understand. Here’s a good one for a toddler, “If you come to breakfast late one more time, you will have to wait until lunch time to eat something”.
#9 View it as a work in progress
While the above mentioned are all effective and easy-to-apply tools, don’t expect changes overnight. The toddler stage is an erratic one as junior is still growing and learning about himself and the world around him. He will need repeated reminders before he fully grasps the idea of being accountable for his time. The good news is that as junior develops, he will grow out of dawdling naturally and you will once again be master of your own time!
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