It never fails. As soon as you open your eyeballs in the morning, your child is staring right into your face, asking when you’re going to go out that day. He’s bouncing off the walls during breakfast, in eager anticipation of getting into the car and going outdoors. But the minute you tell him that you both need to start getting ready to go out, he runs the other way. He gets super busy playing with his train and says he doesn’t want to go anymore—even though he does. Why is getting out of the house with a toddler so tough?
Kids can definitely be mercurial, and it can be hard to anticipate this sudden shift in emotions. “Toddlers are motivated by their imminent needs, and they can hardly grasp the abstract idea of a plan, not to mention sticking to it,” Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD, a family doctor and co-founder of medalerthelp.org, tells Celebrity Parents. “However, providing a stable environment in which you are consistent with the plan surely helps.”
So if you want to get out of the house with a toddler, try some of these tactics.
Give One Direction At A Time
Strollers, car seats, snacks, diaper bags, changes of clothing. If only it were easy to just throw on some sneaks and sail out the door. But in trying to leave your home, you might be asking your child to do too many things to do at once. (Cue meltdown.) “One common cause for having such a difficult time getting toddlers out the door is giving your toddler too many commands at once, like, ‘Put your toys away, get your shoes and socks, and meet me in the living room,’” licensed professional counselor Nina Moak, LPC-I, tells Celebrity Parents. “Often you’re calling out these instructions from another room while also trying to get yourself ready at the same time.” This can be all be very overwhelming to a toddler, so try to stick to one command at a time, i.e. ‘Go get your shoes, please.’”
Get Their Attention
If you’re trying to get your child to pack his water bottle—but he’s busy playing with the dog—you’re probably going to be waiting a long time for said bottle to make it into his backpack. “Make sure you have your toddlers attention before giving a command,” advises Moak. “This means you have to be in the room and get eye contact, but it significantly increases the chance that your toddler is going to do what you ask the first time.”
Applaud Their Efforts
It doesn’t take much to make a toddler feel fab. So after your child finally gets his jacket, be sure to reward his listening skills. “Once they do that one task, give them a high five or tell them ‘Good job, buddy!’” says Moak. By rewarding their listening, they’ll be more likely to listen the next time.
Make A Plan
It can be hard for young children to understand the abstract concept of time. That’s why your kiddo is always clamoring to go outside—at 6:30 a.m. To keep them engaged, talk about your plan for the day. “You can take a hand puppet and talk in a different voice, revealing the plan for going out,” says Dr. Djordjevic. That can help motivate your child to actually start getting ready when it’s time to go.
Model Good Behavior
You can’t really expect your child to get up and out the door if you’re also constantly stopping and struggling to get ready, too. “If you’re disorganized and scattered in your transition out the door, your toddler will pick up on this,” Dr. Sherry Skyler Kelly, PhD, a clinical psychologist, tells Celebrity Parents. “So take the steps to prepare and make yourself organized before you ask your toddler to transition.” You might even want to have an emergency bag in your car so that you don’t have to run back into the house for wipes and Goldfish.
Prepare In Advance
Looking to leave the house by 9:30 a.m.? Instead of waiting until 20 minutes before you need to be someplace, you might need to start sooner, advises Dr. Kelly. “Tell your toddler of the plan or schedule for the day, and actually have a visual schedule printed next to the door or on the door for each day,” she says. “Let your child know the plan for the day and what is expected of them.” This will give your child the time to make the transitions necessary to get out the door.
Identify The Issues
Since transitioning out the door can be tricky for a toddler, observe where your child has the most difficulty. “Leaving the house involves many steps, so figure out which one is the most challenging for your toddler,” advises Dr. Kelly. Maybe he has a tough time putting down the toys—or it might be that he struggles to put on his shoes and tries to avoid it. Figuring out where your kid needs some extra assistance can help make the segue smoother.
Toddlers know what they like when they like it — and aren’t afraid of letting you know it. So instead of fighting with your child about putting on his shoes, offer options to him instead, advises Caitlin Durrance, M.S., CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at OWL Pediatric Therapy LLC. “Since toddlers love to assert their independence, parents can help by providing choices wherever possible,” says Durrance. “For example, you might say, ‘It’s time to leave the house. Do you want to wear your sandals or your sneakers?’” Even something as simple as a choice in footwear can help finagle your child to get out the door faster.
Give A Heads Up
Toddlers definitely do not like sudden switch-ups to their schedules. So to avoid a meltdown, let your child know ahead of time what’s to come. ” Unexpected changes can throw off a child’s day,” says Durrance. “Give previews (e.g., ‘In two minutes we’re going to clean up.’) leading up to the transition.” That way, both of you are prepared for what needs to come next.
Getting out the door with toddlers is never an easy thing to do. But by being prepared, patient, and working with your child, you might only about 5 minutes late to karate class—instead of 20.