Ahh, it has been too long since I wrote a post. Probably because as all of you moms with little children know, a day can feel like a week, or a week can go by like a day.
But as I wait for my four, almost five-, year old to get down the stairs for breakfast, it dawns on me that this is the third child I have had to go through this stage: the Dawdling Stage. My once efficient, independent, do-it-myself preschooler slowly turns into this lazy, haphazard, stare-at-each buttonhole kindergartner. Somewhere between the ages of four and five, at least with all my boys, this has happened.
The Dawdling Monster eats your child up slowly, though. One day before school, they are done WAAAY before they need to be and you have to finish packing the lunch and get to your child to read them a story or something before the bus comes. But then, sometime later, you realize you have to keep getting up five minutes earlier, five minutes earlier, and five more minutes earlier, just to get them ready in time. You’re flying out the door, forgetting the lunch, because your four or five year old has taken fifteen minutes just getting his clothes on. Then ten minutes to eat a bowl of Cheerios. And he’s wandering around without a care in the world.
So if this is you, take heart. There’s not much you can do, and it’s not your fault. All of my boys, with three distinct personalities and styles, have now gone through this stage, and I am realizing it occurs all on its own until about six years old. Then, as the child becomes a first grader, if you’re diligent about family habits in general, it eventually subsides all on its own. The six year old will pleasantly dress, brush their teeth and hair, and come down for his breakfast cereal before your four year old even gets his pajamas off.
But what’s the answer? Well, I confess I am writing this post more for me, than for you. I don’t have too many solutions yet. I have tried different things and none of them totally worked. I have tried taking back over the morning or evening routines: taking their clothes off for them, putting their shoes on, etc., and that only made them upset. Because they could obviously do those things themselves. I tried setting timers before I made my move on them, but that didn’t work either. Or telling them they had ten minutes to clean up before dinner would be ready, etc. They would get so upset, though, trying to beat the timer, and usually not do things right or thoroughly. I tried manipulating the schedule just to give them more time, but they always take up as much time as I give them. This is particularly pronounced at bedtime when the routine consists of multiple different parts: cleaning up, washing, pajamas, etc. When I had four kids under four, it used to take about 30 min. Now, it takes about 90, or longer if I hide behind a book until they’re done all on their own.
We now start getting “ready” for bed just after dinner is over, at 6:00!
I have also tried rewarding them all for finishing early or on time. I have tried competitions, with rewards for the team that is first to clean up, get in the bed, etc. (That only creates heartbreak for the losers, or resentment at the slow team member assigned to the faster one.) I have tried checkpoints, i.e. “Tell mom when you’re done dressing…” and harping at them, i.e. “Come ON, we’re late!” I have even tried (just one time) the threat of, “If you can’t get those shoes on by the time your other brothers are ready, we’ll leave without you.” (Which we did.) That seems to have only produced perpetual fear in my now six-year old that we’ll potentially leave without him any time we’re going somewhere. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is giving my child a watch to time themselves. But knowing my boys, they would just have another thing to get distracted over (they LOOOVE machines and buttons).
So I have pretty much decided to stop fighting it. It’s really not an issue of confusion or changing things, it’s just nature. When my third little boy entered this stage, I realized it for what it was. Pretty much like the No-No stage. That doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating! He once used to blow right through an alphabet worksheet, and now that he’s starting kindergarten and learning to read, I feel like he suddenly acquired a massive case of ADD. He stares at each letter, then into space, then back at page, then at the binding of the workbook, then his pencil with some shavings still stuck on the tip, and fingers them while saying, “uhh… “Spot?” But while I roll my eyes a lot, I’ve stopped fighting it. Hopefully he’ll follow in his other two brother’s footsteps of picking up the pace a little when he turns six. Now I remember why I don’t teach kindergarten!