We’ve all had that moment as parents. That moment when you’re facing down the clock, having unsuccessfully offered your child every pair of shoes in the house and they are now tantrumming in the doorway while you try to find your keys and juggle your coffee and a toddler backpack, and now you’re late and everyone’s mad.
Two things about that type of exit: those days will happen. But it doesn’t have to happen every day.
We’ve got to be parenting Boy Scouts: think about the moment of entry and exit before it happens.
Prepare the environment.
It’s easy to focus on setting up a floor bed or straightening child-sized shelves while our entryways can become total clutter magnets, with daily detritus piling up when we’re on our way to somewhere else. All of that stuff creates friction and chaos — which makes it difficult for anyone to get in or out of the house — but especially messes with kids who are sensitive to order.
This requires the adults in the house to get their chaos under control, as well. Do a purge, store anything that isn’t in season and keep available only what is essential and in season.
Look at the room from a child’s perspective and work to meet their needs. A small stool or bench for your child to sit on while dressing or dealing with shoes, a hook for backpack and jacket and a basket for seasonal smalls like hats and sunglasses or scarves and mittens.
Create consistent routines.
Now that your child has her own set-up in the entryway, help them to develop good habits. With a really young toddler, it can be as simple as having them sit on their bench when they enter the house to wait for help with boots and snowsuits. Preschoolers can hang up their own backpack and jacket. Having things put away in their proper place will make leaving the house much less stressful.
Help your child to do it herself.
When you help your child learn to dress and undress themselves, it takes more time initially, but buys you time down the road. Plan ahead: buy shoes and jackets that are easy for your child to operate independently. Start small: showing your child how to step into rubber boots or slip-on shoes; connecting the teeth of the zipper, then offering your child the chance to pull it up themselves; there’s even a Montessori way to teach a child to put on a coat.
Let go of what you think looks good. Right now, take a deep breath, imagine your two year old in leopard print and paisley and the look on his grandmother’s face and breathe it all out. When you feel yourself cringe at your child’s choice, examine your motives and ask how it serves the child’s development.
Don’t let opportunities for independence turn into power struggles — where both the parent and child are refusing to tie to the laces or do up the zipper. I loved this from an article by Judi Orion in the NAMTA Journal, where she said: “We know from our Montessori training that a child’s own work is what is going to help the child construct himself. Sitting on a bench in a power struggle over who’s going to put the panties on is not self-constructive work. To me it is nothing to go over and say “Oh, let’s get these panties on. Do you want to pull the front or the back? Let’s go. Pull them up here.” And hustle them right through it and let them get on with life.”
And isn’t getting on with life what we’re really aiming for?