Some toddlers are zippy, but others are slow as snails. Kids who dawdle (delay getting dressed, coming to the table, responding when called) fall into one of two groups: 1) dreamers (absentminded kids who just get easily distracted) or 2) avoiders (kids who drag things out to avoid doing what’s being asked of them).

So how can parents put a damper on dawdling? Here are a few tools to deal with dawdling.

Tools to Deal With Dawdling

Connect with respect.

Toss out a few phrases of the Fast-Food Rule and Toddler-ese to let your child know you can see his point of view (even if you disagree). Then, use a “you-I” sentence to let him know how you feel. (“When you don’t come, I get sad, sad, sad . . . because your breakfast gets cold.”)

Offer a win-win compromise.

Next, offer a little fun or a win-win compromise. For example, you might suggest a race: “I’ll count to 10 and let’s see how fast you get your shoes on.” Or use a bit of reverse psychology (“I’ll bet Jessie is too little to put on her shoes superfast!”). Look for win-win compromises that allow you both to “save face.” For example:

Samantha told her 3-year-old, Billy, that it was time to leave the park, but her son said he had to fill one more bucket with sand. He then proceeded to put sand in it…one grain at a time! Growing impatient, Samantha offered a compromise and then something fun for Billy to look forward to. “You say, ‘No, no, no!’ You love the park and don’t want to leave. But Daddy is waiting. So let’s do this. You can put a little more sand in your pail before we leave. Should you take one more minute to put sand in, or two?”

Billy quickly said, “Two!” To make it even more fun, Samantha played the boob a little to let Billy feel like an even bigger winner. She said “What!? Two minutes! No way! One is plenty. Okay, you win. You always win me. You can have two more minutes. Then as soon as we get home, we can play ball… I bet I can throw the ball so fast you’ll never catch it! Is that a deal?”

Remember, when your child keeps his part of the compromise, always reward him with a tiny time-in (like a hug, some praise, gossip, a bit of play) or playing the boob.

When to Use Consequences for Toddler Dawdling

However, if your child doesn’t cooperate (or if you have no time for respectful listening and little compromises), then it’s time for a mild consequence. Since annoying acts are yellow-light behaviours (“I don’t like that.”) not red-light ones (“Stop now!”), they can usually be handled with just a little kind ignoring (briefly turning your back to deprive your tot of your attention).. Of course, with dawdling, ignoring the annoying behaviour may just prolong it. Instead, you may want to use a mild consequence like a clap-growl (several loud claps followed by a low growl can work as both a warning signal and a mild consequence for toddlers). 

If, however, nothing else works and the annoying behaviour crosses the line into unbearable, that’s when you need to count to three and use a “take-control” consequence like time-out or giving a fine.

Here’s an example of what that might look like in action:

Bernadette was having a pokey morning and wouldn’t get dressed for the park . . . even though she loved playing outside. So, her dad, Alvin, said, “Get dressed before the dinger rings or we won’t have time to play in the park.” Then he turned his back for a few seconds to see what she would do next.

Had she started getting dressed, he would have praised her and helped her along. But instead she continued to dawdle. So, Alvin decided to play the boob. He pretended to “help” her get dressed, but kept making silly mistakes like trying to put her pants on over her head and saying in a boastful, boobish way, “Yes! Yes! That’s how they go! I’m sure of it . . . right?”

Unfortunately, she dug in her heels and just refused to put on her clothes. So, Alvin decided to give Bernadette a fine for dawdling too long. “You really, really don’t want to get dressed. Okay. No problem,” he stated matter-of-factly, “but then, no park today . . . maybe tomorrow.” And with that he turned his back and left.

Five minutes later Bernadette announced she was ready to go, and Alvin calmly replied, “I know you love the park, but you waited sooo long today, there is no time.” Bernadette had a meltdown and cried, and Alvin lovingly acknowledged her disappointment and offered her some juice. When she pouted and refused, he did a minute of kind ignoring and she stopped her complaints. 

The next day, when her dad offered to take her to the park, he suggested a little “getting dressed” race: “I bet you can’t get dressed by the time I count to ten!” And she got dressed superfast.“Wow!” he exclaimed. “You got dressed as fast as a jet plane . . . zoooom!”

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