Q: We have a terrible time getting our 3½-year-old son to get dressed. He’ll constantly run around, play and generally be silly. It’s driving us up the wall. Any suggestions?
A: Your son has discovered a witty way to dawdle and hijack the morning. He chooses silliness and playfulness (rather than an outright refusal and meltdown) so he can continue to misbehave “charmingly” while evading being disciplined for it.
Rather than fighting him, you need to win his cooperation. Offer him choices and keep your attention on your own morning responsibilities.
Tell your son: “I don’t want to play the getting-dressed game today. I am happy to help you get dressed, but if you keep jumping on the bed, that tells me you are not interested in my help, and I will go start on breakfast instead.” If he keeps jumping, say, “I see you’ve chosen not to have my help — I’ll see you at the table,” then move on to make breakfast. After a few mornings of having this choice presented, he’ll realize he gets more of your time and attention when he is on task!
If he comes to the table in jammies, you can use a when-then statement: “When your clothes are on, then I’ll know you’re ready to eat.” Offer help now that he is motivated to dress again.
If it’s time to go to daycare and he’s still not dressed, offer another respectful choice: “Shall we quickly get your clothes on now or do you want to put them in a bag and get dressed there?” If he doesn’t answer, simply say, “I see you’re choosing to get dressed at daycare,” then in a friendly way (a warm attitude is critical to the success of this technique), pack up his clothes and off you go!
After a few days of trying out some different choices, he’ll discover that it makes more sense to get dressed during the regular dressing time.