COL 6-year-old needs some coaching in punctuality

Q: Our daughter is a first grader, 61⁄2; years old, and she takes forever to get ready and get out the door in the morning, or any time of day, for that matter. It doesn't matter if she's going to school or if our whole family is going to church, or shopping or whatever. She can tell time quite well, but she is always late and she's making the rest of us late, too. How can we handle this without just nagging all the time?

A: It's not unusual for a child this age to have trouble getting organized and out the door. Even though your daughter can tell time by the clock, at six years of age her practical sense of time is still developing. She may need help to learn how much time it takes to get ready to go out. Also, getting ready requires some organizational skills that many young children haven't developed yet. And there are countless things that can distract a child between the closet and the front door. It sounds like time to give your daughter some coaching on organization and time management.

In the evening, engage your child in thinking about the things she can do in advance to make getting ready go more smoothly the next morning. For example, she could choose her outfit for the morning and lay it out next to her bed. And she could pack her backpack for school and place it by the front door. (If you ask her to come up with the ideas, she's more likely to cooperate.)

If she's especially slow in the morning, as many children are, wake her 15-30 minutes earlier to give her extra time. Whatever the time of day, give her plenty of advance notice whenever she needs to get ready to go out.

If certain things distract your daughter while getting ready, try to eliminate those distractions. For example, if TV is a distraction, leave the TV off until she's completely ready.


Break the getting ready time into chunks. For example, tell her a half hour in advance that it's time to get ready, then check on her progress 15 minutes and 5 minutes before it's time to go. Gently ask her, "How are you doing? Is there anything you need?" With a dawdler, it's easy to say, "Hurry up! Aren't you ready yet?" But that often causes a child to get flustered and go more slowly.

Some children respond well to using an oven timer to give them a more concrete sense of the passing of time. Your daughter might enjoy a game of "beat the clock," seeing if she can be fully dressed by the time the bell goes off.

You have discovered already that nagging doesn't work. So try focusing on the positive instead. Initially you'll need to acknowledge each sign of progress -- organizing her things the night before, eating breakfast without dawdling, or dressing quickly. Eventually, you can just congratulate her, "You're ready right on time! That's great!"

Dr. Martha Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. You can e-mail them to or send them to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.

What To Read Next
Get Local