Toddler behaviour

How to get your toddler out the door quicker

Getting toddlers ready for outing can be frustrating. Save yourself half the battle with these helpful tips.

By Teresa Pitman
Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

With a doctor’s appointment looming, Alison Parker dressed nearly-two-year-old Rosie in her standard January outfit: snow pants, jacket, boots, mittens and hat. She pulled on her own boots and jacket, then realized she needed to restock the diaper bag with some disposables and snacks. It only took a minute, but when she returned, diapers in hand, Rosie’s boots, socks, mittens and hat were off and scattered around the front hall, and she was working on getting her jacket unzipped.

The process of getting yourself and your child ready is often an exercise in frustration, especially in winter, says Nikki Taylor, parent education manager at the Oakville (Ont.) Parent-Child Centre. That’s true whether you have to get your toddler out the door every morning for daycare, or are heading out for an appointment or playdate. “This issue comes up in almost every group I facilitate,” she says. “But if you understand your child’s development and temperament, you can have reasonable expectations.”

Parker’s experience taught her one strategy: “The lesson I learned was that first I pack the diaper bag and get dressed, then I start on Rosie,” she says.

Good plan, says Taylor, adding that involving your toddler may make it go more smoothly. “If you get dressed first, you can ask your toddler to assist you with your boots, your hat, your mittens. Then once you’re all ready, you invite them to take their turn — with your help, of course.”

Figuring out what the roadblocks are likely to be with your child’s temperament will help you to manage the process smoothly:

The transition-impaired toddler Some toddlers, Taylor points out, hate any kind of change. Even if the outing is about going to the park or another place they love, just having to leave behind the game they were playing and get ready is likely to cause resistance. There are few things harder, particularly if you’re in a hurry, than trying to dress an unwilling toddler. (I’ve seen it compared to trying to stuff a live and unfriendly octopus into a string bag without any arms hanging out.)


“Parents tell me the faster they try to go, the slower and less co-operative their children get. Being rushed is a toddler’s worst enemy,” adds Taylor. “The best advice I can offer is to allow 15 minutes to half an hour more than you think it will take. Give him a little warning that you’ll be getting ready to go out in a couple of minutes. If things start escalating, slow down. Sit down beside your toddler and offer him a hug. I have a hard time convincing parents that this approach saves time, but once they try it, they report back that it works.”

The too-warm toddler Your little guy is perfectly comfortable in the house wearing his T-shirt and pants — why would he want to put on a coat and hat and mitts? You know it’s freezing cold outside, but he doesn’t.

“I try to be the prepared adult in that situation,” says mother of two Linda Clement. “If my kids aren’t willing to put on their coats and mitts, I just let them go outside the way they want and carry the stuff with me. Usually in a minute or two, they’re cold and say so — and then they have a real reason to put their coats and hats on. It doesn’t make sense to me to have a war at the door over it.”

The stripper As fast as you can get this little one’s outside clothes on, off they come. You can reduce the opportunities by dressing him last, but if you’ve also got, say, a baby, another child or maybe a dog to manage as well, your toddler can seize the moment to remove mittens, hat and boots.

“It can be helpful to keep these toddlers’ hands busy,” says Taylor. “A toy, squishy ball or bag with a snack in it to be carried to the car can keep them occupied so they don’t start taking off clothes.”


She adds: “Consider whether you really need all the clothes that you’ve set out for your toddler. For example, if you’re going for a playdate or to the mall, and will only be in and out of the car, snow pants are likely not necessary.”

Taylor’s most important tip: Be patient. Your toddler doesn’t understand time, schedules or appointments, and isn’t really trying to drive you crazy when she dawdles at the door. Want to keep everyone’s attitude positive? “Try singing as you’re getting ready,” she suggests. “A bouncy song puts you in a good mood and can help get your toddler moving.”

Stocking up the diaper bag Parent education manager Nikki Taylor of the Oakville (Ont.) Parent-Child Centre suggests that a pre-packed diaper bag kept near the door helps make your exit less stressful. The trick is to remember to replenish the items after each outing. Here are some items to pack: • toys the child doesn’t see all the time • snacks and drinks • wipes, bandages, hand cleanser, tweezers and other first-aid supplies • extras of any comfort items such as pacifiers, blankets, etc. • extra diapers, clothes, hat, mittens and socks

Managing with multiples You think it’s tough getting one toddler ready and out the door — imagine the challenges with more than one. Kat Murphy, who has a preschooler as well as toddler twins, finds that dressing them in stages seems to work best: Snow pants on all three kids, then boots, then jackets (not zipped up) and mittens, then finally hats on and zippers zipped. “Then I toss them all out on the porch while I throw my own coat and boots on,” she says.

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