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Handle Dawdling Without Getting Frustrated

Handle dawdling without getting frustrated

“Hurry up!” “We need to go!” “Get moving!”

Sound familiar? It is hard not to get frustrated when you are trying to get everyone out the door, on to the next activity, or ready for bed. It is even more frustrating when your attempts seem to slow everyone down even further rather than speed them up.

To get a better handle on this, let’s talk about why kids dawdle, and what you can do to help…



First of all, we need to remember that children live in their own world on their own time. They live in the moment and don’t have to worry about schedules or deadlines. They don’t feel the pressure of a to-do list. They would rather keep enjoying the current activity than have to switch gears. Quite frankly, it sounds like a great way to live! It’s a shame that we can’t all be on “kid-time.” We should be able to enjoy things in the moment, and we should understand that an enjoyable activity is hard for our children to give up - why get ready for bed when there are fun puzzles to complete?


Attention Span

Children have shorter attention spans than adults. The reason for this is that they have so much to learn about life that they can’t spend too much time focusing on any one thing, because it could mean missing out on another learning opportunity. This means that focusing on getting ready to leave the house, and all of the steps that entails, might be too much for a child.


Motor Skills

Can you imagine conquering the physical feats that children accomplish in a few short years? Climbing onto things that are at your chest level, walking up stairs that require a full knee bend, walking multiple steps for every one adult step, all while mastering a complete foreign language! Children have newly developing motor skills so things will be harder (and more frustrating) for them to accomplish as they learn those skills. They may lose interest, or they might simply take more time to keep up.


Accepting the reasons, while nudging things along

Hopefully these reminders are a good start for increasing your patience. But life doesn’t function on kid-time, so we have a few ideas to help nudge your child to hurry up … even if it’s just a little.


Analyze Your Schedule

If dawdling is a constant problem, take a look at why it might be happening. Determine if you are trying to do too much, or if your schedule is too tightly packed. If so, start focusing on the priorities in your life and slow yourself down a little bit. You might enjoy a less pressured transition time.


Check Sleep Schedules

Tired children who aren’t getting a proper amount of sleep will lack the energy they need to get through the day. They will tend to move more slowly and dawdle. If your child dawdles more in the afternoon or evening, perhaps a nap or bed time adjustment will perk things up.


Step-by-Step Directions Instead of vaguely telling your children to “get ready,” you can give further directions in a step-by-step sequence. Most children can follow one or two step directions quite easily. “Please put your toys away in the box. Thank you, now please put your puzzle away. Great! Now we will find your shoes and put them on.”  This may seem like a lot of effort on your part; however, having your child follow directions without either of you getting frustrated is worth the time. And it will likely save you time in the long run.


Give an Incentive

Encourage your child to finish a task with a “When/Then” statement, which gives him a reason to move forward. For example, instead of saying, “Get in the car,” you can elaborate and point out the next step, such as, “When you your pajamas on, we can read your new book!” or “When you get in the car, we can get on our way to Grandma’s house!”


Make a List

For routine events, such as getting ready to leave for daycare or getting ready for bed, it can help to make a list or create a chart. Write down the sequence of tasks to be completed and give the list to your child with a pencil to cross things off as they’re done. As an alternative, write each step on an index card and secure them together on a key ring so your children can flip through the tasks as they go. For young children who aren’t readers, you can use drawings or photos to demonstrate each step.

These handy tools can be used over and over again until your child is familiar with the routine.

Don’t Expect Speed

It helps to allow a reasonable amount of time for your child to meet your request. Just because you are in a rush doesn’t mean your child will move any faster than his usual speed.

Don’t Reinforce the Pattern

Children often dawdle out of habit, because “time to go” doesn’t really mean “time to go.” A parent will make an announcement, but then be distracted by a phone call or a household task (so, you see, it really isn’t time to go after all). Children come to expect that you’ll repeat yourself numerous times before it really is time, so they don’t feel a need to respond to the first few requests. Practice this: think before you speak, make a very specific request, and then follow through with action.


Don’t Verbally Rush Your Child

Repeated requests to “Come on!” or “Hurry up!” tend to frustrate children. What often happens is that they rush to the point of taking extra time to make up for the mistakes that happen when they hurry. Instead of a request for speed, try defining the next task to be done.


For more tips check out The No-Cry Discipline Solution

Elizabeth Pantley's picture
No-Cry Solution Series Author

Elizabeth Pantley is a parent educator, mother of four, and the author of the now-classic baby sleep book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, as well as six other books in the series, including The No-Cry Separation Anxiety SolutionThe No-Cry Potty Training SolutionThe No-Cry Discipline Solution, The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, plus other successful parenting books. She is known worldwide as the practical, reasonable voice of respectful parenting.