This month's question comes from Chiara all the way from Italy.
Q: "My 3 year old girl has a hard time during the morning and evening routines. I've tried everything, from singing and using a soothing voice to using visuals and even giving "orders," but she will always whine because she doesn't want to brush her teeth, and then have a bath, and then get dressed... Until the routine is over and she instantly becomes the usual smiling, sweetest toddler. Any suggestions?? Thank you and cheers from Italy!"
A: Thank you so much for your question Chiara! Cheers to you too! :-)
Toddlers have their own spirit, don't they? They just have their own plans and ideas on how they are going to tackle everything. And sometimes, what they want to do just doesn't match your plans as the mom.
It's important to note that, a little defiance and whining from a toddler is normal and developmentally appropriate. And from what it sounds like, you're definitely doing something right because she's complying with your directives, even if she doesn't want to. That's a victory in itself!
But, at the end of the day, that little power struggle(the whining and the push back from your toddler) can get exhausting. What else can you do to smooth these routines out? Let's take a look at why these morning/evening routines can be difficult for toddlers, and then we'll tap into some other interventions you can try to help your daughter manage these daily tasks more peacefully.
Why Morning/Evening Routines are so Rough
Transitions, in general, are a struggle for many kids, but especially for toddlers, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and children that suffer from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is the primary reason that morning/evening routines are so difficult for these groups.
All transitions are usually disliked because they typically mean that the child has to end an enjoyable activity and switch to something else. If the child is switching from a favored activity to a less favorable one, then the resistance to the switch will be even greater.
Some classic transitions that present major struggles for parents are:
> Daycare or school drop off
> Pick up from Grandma's house (or any other beloved caregiver's home)
> End of "tablet time" (or any other electronic for that matter)
There are several reasons why each one of these transitions create so much struggle, and to discuss them all would lead us into a very deep rabbit hole that may not be very useful to you. Instead, I want to focus on what the morning and evening routines may symbolize to your daughter. In doing this, we will be able to pull out strategies that might be more effective for your specific situation.
Now, I'm not sure if your toddler goes to daycare during the day or if you stay home with her. If she goes to daycare (or another caregiver during the day), it's not surprising that the morning routine would set her off. The routine is signaling to her mind that her time with you is coming to an end. And most toddlers hate that!
The same could be said about the evening routine. This routine is signaling to your daughter that it's almost time for bed, which means she won't "be with you" anymore because she's going to sleep. Plus, have you ever seen a toddler that actually wants to go to sleep? They are very rare indeed!
Perhaps you stay home with your little girl. As such, the separation from you is not as much the problem. The higher likelihood is, she's having to switch from a more favorable activity (such as playing) to a less favorable one (like brushing her teeth). As such, the struggle begins.
Time for Problem-Solving
Now that we have a greater understanding of what might be causing the struggle for your child, let's look at some strategies we can try to alleviate some of the resistance you're experiencing.
1. Provide Ample Warning-This is a simple tactic that you can use with kids of any age and for any transition. All you have to do is give your child several warnings that a transition is approaching. This helps them to mentally prepare for the transition that is coming. I usually recommend 4 warnings that are structured as follows: 15 minute, 10 min, 5 min, and 1 min.
When providing your warning, be sure you have your child's attention and that you are communicating clearly what is going to happen. For example:
"In 15 minutes, we are going to stop playing and brush your teeth."