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How to Get a Screaming and Crying Child Out the Door in the Morning

Sep 12, 2019

Daily transitions can be stressful for working parents and their children. One of the toughest of all transitions is getting everyone “up and out” in the morning. Here are some tips that may be helpful. 


Relevant Reading: How to Make Back to School Transitions Less Traumatic for the Whole Family


Plan for extra time so you can match your child’s pace

Feeling rushed puts pressure on children and adds stress. So, look for ways to make your mornings less rushed. Try getting up a half an hour earlier. Get clothes, lunches and backpacks ready the night before.

Give a preview

Talk to your child about the day ahead — that they are going to school or daycare, and you are going to work. Remind them that they will spend the day with their friends and that you will see them again at the end of the day.

Offer choices

Let your child make important choices about appropriate options like what shirt to wear or what to take for one of their snacks. This can help your child have a sense of control.

Check in with the caregiver

If you take your child to school or daycare, drop-off or pickup time can be an opportunity to have a brief chat with the teacher or caregiver about how your child is doing. You could explain, for example, if your child had a difficult morning or slept poorly the night before. At the end of the day, find out how their day went.

Reconnect after you get home

Try to spend the first few minutes after you return home giving your child undivided attention. Some young children would love to be held or rocked for a few minutes to reconnect. Other children might just want to be near you, doing quiet things — they just want to be able to have your attention before you get into your chores.

Don’t be surprised if your child falls apart shortly after you pick him up from child care. This is normal. Children often save up their strong feelings all day and let them out when they get home.

So, basically, transitions are hard. And your kids might be really emotional about them. But there are many ways to make them a bit smoother so everyone's a little happier. 

Create routines

Daily routines that are fairly consistent help children know what to expect, which makes transition times a little easier.

Visual reminders

If there are some parts of getting ready that you want your kids to do on their own, create a chart with pictures of what you need them to do (brush teeth, get dressed, pack their backpack, etc.).

The 5-minute warning

There’s nothing magic about five minutes — you may choose 15 minutes or a half-hour, especially for an older child. But the point is, a positive, friendly reminder of when kids need to leave or switch to another activity helps them get psychologically ready for transitions.

Use a timer

Setting the timer on your microwave clock or cell phone helps make short timelines more real for children, while providing both audio and visual cues.

Keep kids in the loop

Explain what’s happening. Make sure your children understand what is going to happen and what they need to do and when. For example, at the breakfast table, you can have a quick “here’s what’s happening today” mini meeting. If kids feel included in planning they are more likely to go along with it.

Try using music signals

There’s a reason why daycares and kindergartens use bits of music to signal transition times (e.g. sing a clean-up or goodbye song). The music provides a pleasant cue that reminds children that it’s time for a change. Music signals may or may not work as well in your home, but they are worth a try if you’re having trouble with transitions.

Let them take a toy

Allowing kids to choose a small toy to take with them when you have to go somewhere is comforting and gives them something nice to focus on.

Praise good behaviour

We often notice and point out when kids are dawdling or not getting ready fast enough. But be sure to point out and praise kids for when they do well with transitions!

Has something worked for you that I haven't touched on? Let us know in the comments!

Article Author Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann
Dr. Ester Cole and John Hoffmann

Dr. Ester Cole is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto providing services to school-age children, youth, families and schools. She was the Chair of The Psychology Foundation of Canada and the Parenting for Life program, and the past president of the Ontario Psychological Association and the Canadian Association of School Psychologists. She has published and lectured widely, and has been active on committees provincially, nationally and in the American Psychological Association.

John Hoffman is one of Canada’s top parenting and child development writers. He has written extensively for The Psychology Foundation of Canada for 22 years, including web articles for Stress Strategies and Staying on Top of Your Game and booklets for the Parenting For Life, Kids Have Stress Too! and Stress Lessons programs. He was also a featured writer and columnist for Today’s Parent magazine for over 20 years. 

Follow The Psychology Foundation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and visit psychologyfoundation.org to access 24/7 A Resource for Working Parents.

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