How do you get your kid out the door in the morning?
November 3, 2010 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any unusual methods for getting your school-age children out the door in time to catch the bus?

My eight-year-old son has tremendous problems getting ready for school in time. I've heard all the usual advice about how to get a child ready in the morning, and it just doesn't work.

Things we already do:
- early bedtime
- simple routine
- set out things the night before
- plenty of time in the morning
- sticker chart for getting ready in time
- not play until he's ready for school
- lose our tempers and shout a lot

We're too far from his school, along busy roads, for him to walk or ride his bike if he misses the bus.

Do you have any tricks that I might not have already tried?
posted by The corpse in the library to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What tasks does he have to accomplish in the morning? My four-year-old and I have a "one chance to do it yourself and then I will do it for you" thing going on, which doesn't work particularly well in terms of smooth sailing but does at least get her to school on time. On the other hand, she's four; it's a lot easier to sit on her and forcibly apply her shoes and socks at this age than when she's twice as old.
posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on November 3, 2010

It would probably help to know what the problems are -- is he inherently slow all the time? Does getting dressed create a bottleneck? Does he lose things? Does he do it on purpose because he hates school?

Also, what are the consequences for tardies? One family I know, having gotten to the end of their rope on this, just quit fighting about it, took the boy to school when he was ready, and let him take the consequences -- detentions that cut into his playtime after school. It was inconvenient for the family but after two weeks of stops and starts, he decided detention sucked and got himself ready on time thereafter. (Barring the slip-ups that happen with kids.) Fighting with his parents about it made him resistant and foot-draggy just to assert his independence; letting him face the consequences of his actions instead of protecting him from them made him make up his own mind about it. But it would depend on how serious the consequences are
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:34 AM on November 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

I don't know if this will help you get out the door any faster, but it might help to establish a better routine. When are you eating breakfast? Growing up, my dad and I were always ready to head out the door and my mom and brother were always late. The biggest difference was that my dad and I were go-downstairs-and-eat-breakfast-before-doing-anything-else types, and my mom and brother were chug-some-coffee-and-grab-a-bagel-while-tying-your-shoes types. We also ate better.

Wake up, eat breakfast, then get dressed and ready. If your little dude is prone to grogginess (I always was), this will help to stave it off.
posted by phunniemee at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

It would help to know what he's in charge of taking care of in the AM and what he winds up doing INSTEAD of that. Some things that help for my kiddo (who's 5.5):

- Limited time frame for taking care of things ("I am going to go into MY room and get dressed now. By the time I come back, YOU need to be dressed, too").
- Breaking big tasks down into tinier ones ("get dressed", THEN "brush teeth", not "get dressed brush teeth get backpack pick breakfast oh yeah brush hair").
- Having a bribe for the ride to school... I drive WeeThumbscrew to school, but you could do something similar - "Get to the bus on time and I'll give you a Twizzler to eat thereon". I realize some people frown on bribes, but... it's how the world works, and if it's a choice between Twizzlers or yelling, I know which one makes ME feel less guilty.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:44 AM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

To what extent is he expected to do things on his own? With my nine-year-old, we have basically gone to a very closely monitored process. She is told the next thing to do in the routine and we pretty much watch while she does it. Not literally, but if we tell her to brush teeth and we don't hear water running within two minutes we ask how the brushing is going. We ask her to get her backpack, and if she's not ready with it in a few seconds we'll call out a reminder. Sometimes, on really lazy mornings, we are quite literally walking her through it. Of course, this means I have to be ready to go before I get her ready, but it's sort of the only way we can get it to work.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:44 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't really solving the problem, but more like a trick. Set the clocks he sees 15 minutes ahead. It works for me (I am not a morning person), and I *know* they're wrong. Just something about seeing the later time gets me out the door.
posted by AlisonM at 9:47 AM on November 3, 2010

You mention playing, but one thing that sometimes works for my nephews is to have something they'd Really like to do before school be an incentive to get ready early so that they can do that. Read that next chapter in the chapter book they didn't want to put down at bedtime is the one that comes to mind.
posted by ldthomps at 9:57 AM on November 3, 2010

The sticker chart may not be incentive enough, especially if it's also being used for other tasks. We have about 15 minutes time built in for TV watching or DS playing before the bus comes. That is a relatively scarce and highly valued prize in our house, so the consequence of not getting to do that is enough to keep things going.

There is also some checking during the first part of the routine to make sure they are out of bed, not playing, getting dressed, etc.
posted by Sukey Says at 10:01 AM on November 3, 2010

I find that having a shorter period of time to get ready works way better. I always allowed 30 minutes to get three kids ready and was usually on time. Lately, I've cut it back to about 20 minutes (We are leaving earlier, not getting up earlier.) and we are actually ready too early and end up sitting in front of school waiting for it to open. I find that whatever I have to do expands to fill the available time.

I have a very strict schedule. The kids put the clothes out the night before. I wake them up with "Good morning! What to you want for breakfast!!!" They have to get out of the bed and answer the breakfast question before I leave their rooms. I start the breakfast (boiling water for oatmeal, waffle in the toaster, fix my ice coffee from the fridge and their snacks (I just stick the frozen water bottle into the bag with the snack/lunch already in it) and their cups of milk. If they want cereal, I put the milk in cups next to the bowl of cereal so I can go get ready with the milk put away. They pour the milk in themselves. By then, the kids come in dressed and eat. While they eat, I get in the bathroom and get dressed and brush my teeth, etc. When I come out, they go and brush their teeth and hair and wash their faces. By the time they come out, I am holding the still sleeping two year old with the door unlocked. They grab backpacks and snacks and we go. I have to bring the kids to school - when I get home I actually make myself presentable, change and feed the baby and me. (You would do this part after the bus leaves, I assume.) If the baby wakes up early or I actually have to go somewhere immediately after school drop off, it's a bit more complicated, but I just hurry in that case.)

I also have a friend with 3 kids who was getting up like an hour and a half early and was always late. I told her to sleep later and do everything ahead of time like me, she said it worked really well.

If you have extra time, it turns into watch a cartoon, check metafilter and facebook, etc., etc. If we are ready extra early and I let them play before school we are ALWAYS late.

The only thing I've changed about this schedule in years, is that when they were little they had to get dressed last or else they would get toothpaste and breakfast on their school uniforms. I would have all of the school clothes in the living room and would help them get dressed and then we'd leave.

Note: This is the ONLY area of my life in which I am organized.
posted by artychoke at 10:04 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my boys were that age, if they were ready to leave 10 minutes (or maybe 5, I don't recall) before we had to go, then they could spend it playing their Nintendo DS (which would be the only time they'd get to play during the week). Now, at 14 and 12, just making sure that food is already deployed by the time they get downstairs is enough to streamline their exits.
posted by Calibandage at 10:13 AM on November 3, 2010

I have no real advice here but can't help but make a counterpoint to a previous statement. It may work for you just fine but...

Re: setting clocks forwards by X amount of time.

My mom did the same thing for my entire childhood and it worked... and it has also made me constantly confused about what time any given programmable clock on this planet really represents. It's not cute and causes me to constantly double-think myself anytime I look at something (that can be user programed) that shows the time. The only absolute truths I accept relating to valid time are in ticker bars on news networks, tv menus, and on cell phones. Disclaimer: I am a bit OCD in other areas too, but nothing approaching treatment-worthy levels.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:24 AM on November 3, 2010

We work to offload morning prep into the night before; the clothes you're planning to wear have to be laid out as part of chores, and you have to pack your own lunch the night before. 3 boys aged, 7, 10, 13, with some degree of special needs, and one bathroom. The 7 year old just started packing his own lunch this year. Outdoor clothes/shoes are always in the same place, and your backpack must be packed (minus the lunch in the fridge) the night before, and be in the closet.

There is no discussion of "I need X for school." during the morning. It needs to be mentioned the night before, or it's not happening, no if's and's or but's.

Kids get woken up at 7:20 and must be downstairs by 7:30 or a consequence (usually just 5 minutes at the table doing nothing once everything else is done).

Kids must be finished eating and putting lunch in backpack by 7:50 (usually done between 7:30 and 7:40).

Then there's teeth brushing, and then you have your own time until it's finally time to get ready for school at 8:20. Because the kids want to get the most amount of time to play (20-30 minutes allows a lot more than can be done in 10 minutes), they hurry themselves along. If you're not out the door by 8:30 (8:15 for the older one at a different school), there's a consequence. Oldest one is usually out by 8:00 (the earliest he's allowed to leave), and the younger two haven't left late in two years, and only arrived late to school (they walk to school rather than bus) once. And it wasn't because they left the house late.

I'll note that electronics (ds, wii, xbox, computer) are not allowed in the mornings, but still about 20% of the time, we do have to ask the younger two what time it is at 8:20 if they're not cleaning up from playtime yet. There's very little that needs to be done in the morning, so they get time to play/read, and Ms. nobeagle and I get to sip our coffee and reconnect in the morning.
posted by nobeagle at 10:37 AM on November 3, 2010

I have no kids of my own, but I do recall my own childhood. My father, who looks and sounds grumpy even when he isn't, would get up first in the household (followed immediately by my mother). He'd stomp down the hall to my room, which was closest to theirs, and bark, "get up!". That was enough to get me up, as well as my sister, whose room was further down the hallway. From that point on, it was an hour till the school bus came. We'd get showered and dressed, breakfast eaten and bags packed, and still be waiting at the end of the lane for the bus for 10-15 minutes. The secret? There was only one bus, and neither Mom nor Dad had time to drive us to school before they themselves had to be on the road. So it was a choice of catch the schoolbus, or walk 5 miles to the school. I should note that this was from 5th grade onwards.
posted by LN at 10:47 AM on November 3, 2010

As usual, Eyebrows McGee's answer is spot-on. One, I think looking at the root of his tardiness might be very revealing. Is he having problems with school? Undiagnosed attentional issue? Two, making it *his* consequence rather than yours will make him more motivated.
posted by radioamy at 10:47 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

-plenty of time in the morning

My son is a master of expanding the time it takes to do a task to exceed the available time so I've gone in the reverse direction: I give him less time. 15 minutes from alarm clock to out the door during which he has to wash-face-eat-breakfast-brush-teeth-brush-hair-dress-pack-lunch-and-homework-in-backpack.

He does this willingly because the trade off is he gets to sleep in longer. Having barely enough time to do everything means he knows he can't dawdle and he's really seized on this as a personal challenge (despite otherwise not being competitive in nature). It's been interesting watching him experiment ways to improve his personal best time and as a result he's developed his own night-before routines and taught himself how to estimate time:task.

Back when I started this a few years ago (when he was 8), I showed him some videos of how firefighters turn out as inspiration. We also agreed upon a list of the minimum required functions that he was to perform each morning. For the first several months, I called out the 5 minutes intervals but now I don't have to do that any more as he's developed a fairly accurate internal clock.
posted by jamaro at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bribery works -- give him a token every time he is on time, when he collects X tokens, he can trade them for something he wants or an activity he wants to do.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:02 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you are doing a lot of the right things, despite a frustrating time, so good for you! Kids often go through phases like this--for instance, I remember at least of year of never being able to find both shoes for my son without running through the whole house, and of carrying extra belts in the glove compartment of our car for him to wear, because he wore a school uniform and that was the one bit of clothing he always put on last, etc. Meanwhile, his older brother would be up early and waiting and bored.

But I would ask him some questions about, for example, what waiting at the bus is like, and who he sits with, etc. because I also know lots of kids, guys especially, who found riding the bus a traumatic experience. There may be some bullying going on that makes him reluctant to get to that bus stop in the first place.
posted by misha at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2010

What tasks does he have to accomplish in the morning?

Get up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on shoes and a jacket, out the door. Clothes are picked out the night before, I make his lunch and check his backpack.

Is he having problems with school?

Yup. But I don't think it's him avoiding school. He can be slow and distracted when we're trying to get him out the door to do something fun, too.

Undiagnosed attentional issue?

Oh, they're diagnosed all right. He has the most awesome ADHD you can imagine, and is oppositional when cornered. Ultimatums do not work. We need to make this as gentle as possible.

There's no bullying on the bus. There's a driver and an aide, and they're both great, he likes them both, and they run a friendly ship.

Letting him do screen time or a similar really good treat wouldn't work, as then I would have to turn off the TV or game and that would lead to a fight.

Also, what are the consequences for tardies?

At school? I don't know. I don't think they do detention in 2nd grade, especially not for kids like him. At home? Today we tried not nagging, he missed the bus (for the first time), and Mr Corpse drove him to school -- which is less "green," a matter of concern to him.

My son is a master of expanding the time it takes to do a task to exceed the available time so I've gone in the reverse direction

Intriguing! My son is the same way. I might give that a try.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:02 PM on November 3, 2010

"Today we tried not nagging, he missed the bus (for the first time), and Mr Corpse drove him to school -- which is less "green," a matter of concern to him."

A matter of concern to your son or your partner? If your son can get on board with being "greener" by taking the bus, that might help. The ADHD adds complication, but having kids find an internal motivation to do X always helps them do X better than if they're only doing it to please parents.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:04 PM on November 3, 2010

Oh, the green thing is my son's concern.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:05 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

It helped me a lot when my dad found out I had been pretending to go to the bus but was walking the whole way instead (I was terrified of the bus driver,) and agreed to drive me himself. Suddenly getting up on time was reduced to just being tired and not also panicky/dreading the next half hour/extra tired due to staying up worrying about being caught or forced to take the bus.

As a grown-up (hah!) I find a lamp on a timer, MP3s of my own choosing, clocks set at various ahead times (between 5 and 40 minutes) and putting my keys next to my shoes (next to my bag which has my work badge attached to it,) helpful. I still tend to clock in with under two minutes to spare (if work started at 2pm, I'd be early, religiously.)
posted by SMPA at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2010

The Japanese are pretty quick about getting ready in the morning. Adult gets ready in 5 minutes. Child and Mom get ready in 5 minutes.

My wife, bless her heart, does the difficult job of getting our 8 yr old son and 5 yr old daughter ready while I drive the bus. Some times they have 20+ minutes to play. Other times I pick them up with shoes in hand, toothpaste on chin and dragging a coat.

BTW, when a bus rider isn't waiting at the stop, I usually wait about 15 seconds. If there is no action, I'm gone.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 12:38 PM on November 3, 2010

Ah. In reading your updates, I think it's important to add that in my scenario, I am the one who probably has undiagnosed ADHD. (I am not saying my kids have the opposite of ADHD, but I am far worse than they are.) I can say in all situations, if I have a lot of time, I will be late. If I have 15 minutes, I will be on time. It makes me cut out the unneccesary crap and focus. Since my kids are pretty distractable too, it works that they don't have any leeway with the schedule. If they have time to mess around, forget it. (If I let them play after school, before they do their homework, trouble. If they get right to it when the get home, peaceful evening.
posted by artychoke at 12:42 PM on November 3, 2010

Why shower in the morning? I didn't shower in the morning until middle school (and I'm female.)
posted by k8t at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

My kids can wake up and be on the bus in 20 minutes later, but getting them in and out of a shower or bath takes twice that long. That's why they shower/bathe at night. Showering consists of as many, if not more, tasks as all the other morning tasks combined. Each task -- take off pjs, take off underwear, put away pjs, throw undies in hamper, get wet, soap body, shampoo hair, rinse body, rinse hair, dry body, dry hair, put on underwear, put on clothes, fix hair -- is a chance to dawdle and delay.

Can your son shower in the evening? Then, in the morning, all he'd have to do is swap his PJs for his school clothes and tame his bedhead.
posted by hhc5 at 12:59 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always showered at night as well. I waste enough time as it is when I'm getting ready in the morning; if I had a nice hot shower to let me linger in sleepyland, it's like the end of the world.
posted by adrianna aria at 1:01 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid, this was the routine to get us out of the house on time:

1. My mom turned "how fast can you get ready for school" into a game. I had two siblings who were school aged at the same time as I was, and we would race. I don't remember the mechanics of the race - it's possible that whoever won got shotgun or a similar token "prize" only 9 year olds care about.

If everyone was ready on time every day that week (and other "let's be functional human beings" sorts of conditions), we got ice cream after school on Friday. If anybody let the team down, everyone faced the consequences. So there was incentive for me (oldest, overachiever) help my brothers (one severe ADHD, the other significantly younger) out and for everybody to give it a serious effort.

2. Absolutely no TV watching or organized playtime before school. There was a morning routine, and it was THE ROUTINE. Set in fracking stone. Period.

3. My mom made breakfast every morning while we were meant to be getting dressed and such. Usually setting out the fixings for cereal in the spring, or oatmeal in fall/winter. There was no "oh, you're late, you can just grab something and go". You were to be in the kitchen, dressed and groomed with backpack, in time to sit down and eat food like a civilized human being. Period. This was a component of the game.

This is all probably harder to accomplish if you only have one child, because a significant motivator in our routine was the fact that you had to do your part so that everyone could get where they needed to be and the possibility of ice cream could be maintained. But maybe this will help a little?
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where do you notice time really being wasted? Some kids take 45-minute showers if you let them. Some kids get distracted by a piece of fuzz on the floor for ten minutes. Looking at your list of morning tasks, I would say that moving the shower to the night before might be helpful. Also, you mention he's oppositional when cornered. What about a digital timer with time set for each task? He can't argue with the timer as he could with a parent, and beating the timer might even become a fun game for him.
posted by epj at 3:27 PM on November 3, 2010

I was always very difficult to wake up and get out the door. In retrospect, my mother's perseverance in this area is truly admirable. Anyway, we did the give it less time, not more, thing too, and to this day that sort of thing works for me. 10 minutes, not 30. It helped that we were nighttime showerers; I still am. On days when I had miraculously gotten up early, I would always end up puttering around and we'd be later than usual - normally I took too long deciding on clothes or something, but you have that angle covered. I remember one time, we had a 2 hour snow delay in the morning, a wonderful treat, and yet I was still late because somehow I had expanded into the 2.5 hours I had available.

Anyway, I'd suggest winnowing down the time he has to get ready. Shave a few minutes off a week, perhaps?

What is he doing while you're checking his backpack? He should always have something to accomplish, to keep momentum going. Maybe putting his breakfast dishes in the sink? Tying shoes? I can't tell from your response what he's doing instead of getting ready that you need to nag him about, but if you can just really structure a short burst of time in the morning, it might help him cut whatever it is out.
posted by Mizu at 3:45 PM on November 3, 2010

Ahh. If ADHD is involved, it may help if he controls more of the process so he learns to manage himself:

* waking up later is a huge help, if all he has to do is get dressed, scarf down oatmeal and brush his teeth before grabbing his backpack and running out the door. ADD kids can benefit from a quick routine/transition. The more undefined time there is, the greater the opportunities for distractibility;

* The LESS you're involved, the better. My ADD boy only got himself to the bus on time once I completely removed myself from the process. My kid has a checklist and HE packs his bag at night and he also makes his own lunch. He checks off that he does this every night and in the morning he rolls out of bed, gets dressed (although sometimes I'll hear him playing with his army guys and I have to say, "We're eating now!" and he runs downstairs), grabs his bag and runs out the door. He's proud, and although sometimes he forgets stuff (because I long stopped double-checking his bag), we have 100% nag-free mornings.

I found the less I had to do with getting him ready, he really took ownership and did it himself.

I'd talk to him about how you perceive the morning struggle, ask him for his perspective, and help him problem solve THIS VERY SOLUTION.

It works for us, YMMV.
posted by dzaz at 3:56 PM on November 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, when I was a kid, getting up later was the only way to get to school on time. If I had lots of time available, I would either get distracted while dawdling through the morning tasks, or I would be ready early, get engrossed in something else, and end up being late anyway.

If I only had 15 minutes to get ready, I could focus and power through it all.
posted by lollusc at 3:57 PM on November 3, 2010

The biggest dawdling is over breakfast. He's too skinny and doesn't usually eat much lunch, so I don't want to threaten to take his food away.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:37 PM on November 3, 2010

Maybe make breakfast able to transition to on-the go food. Toast or granola bar instead of cereal. Then, even if he doesn't make it through all the yogurt, he can still take food with him when it's time to go.

I only made it to school on time because I had a granola bar in the car.
posted by freshwater at 7:15 PM on November 3, 2010

If your kid will eat eggs, scrambled eggs in the microwave + shredded cheese + veggie sausage crumbles + tortilla = hot breakfast in less than 5 minutes and he can eat the breakfast burrito on the walk to the bus. You can knock off a minute if you use eggbeaters/carton egg whites. We save sit-down breakfasts for the weekends.

Also nthing what everyone else has said about moving the shower to the evening. Kids and water can play together endlessly.
posted by jamaro at 7:44 PM on November 3, 2010

Many, many good ideas here. Thanks for all the responses -- I'll be trying some of these out.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2010

« Older Guittard chocolate chips in SF?   |   DIY Portfolio Management Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.