Dear Miss Faith,
I wonder if you could give some ideas for me to help my 4yo daughter get dressed in the morning. She is taking it very slow, and nothing I say or do can seem to speed it up. My 2yo and I have to wait for her before we all go downstairs for breakfast, and I find I feel angry and powerless. Another thing is that she has developed a sensitivity to her underclothes, where there’s only one that she’ll wear. But it’s only for me; for dad or grandma, she’ll wear any of them. At this point, we’re washing her underwear in the sink each night so she can wear it again the next day.
When child develops a sensitivity that only appears for one adult but not for others, it’s frustrating all around! Especially when you see her behaving like an angel for someone else. The trick for situations where you’ve fallen into a negative pattern like that is to look and see how you can take your “self” away from the interaction a bit. One idea that’s occurring to me is to have her bring her clothing downstairs, where she can dress at her leisure while you do other things. Perhaps you and your 2yo would even start eating breakfast without her if she takes too long, but it’s not because you’re angry or punishing her; it’s just the result of the choice that’s she’s made. Maybe tomorrow she’ll be able to eat with you again.
Another option is to literally take yourself out of the equation. If things go fine with dad, could he help her get dressed each morning? When I find myself getting into a cycle of negative interactions with a child, I’ll often hand-off that interaction to my assistant, and things can go much more smoothly. It pricks my pride a little, but the reality is that I have many other interactions with that child over the course of the day, so why struggle over something that feels hard, if there’s another option?
If dad’s schedule means that he can’t help during the week, and having her dress downstairs is not taking the sting out of your interactions, try to think outside the box a little. I’ve known some parents who had real struggles dressing in the morning, who would dress their child the night before so they could skip the morning dressing altogether. I don’t recommend that as a long-term solution, but doing it for a couple of weeks might effectively push the ‘re-set’ button, and you could find that your previous issues have melted away once you start again. When you don’t give your child something to push against, by taking yourself out of the situation as much as you can, it can help the energy start to flow again.
Finally, an image for you: whenever I have an ongoing issue with a child, I find that pushing and pushing all the time just doesn’t work. Instead I push for awhile, then relax a little and see what happens. Then push again, and relax a little. It is like the image of the waves on the beach as the tide comes in. This way, the child is not being over-powered into submitting to our will; he (or she) has time to decide to do what we’ve asked him to, out of his own free will when I’m not pushing. Or if he doesn’t, it gives me time to shore up the loving side of our relationship, and for him to get used to the level of where things are at, before I give another gentle push. So that’s why I think it’s better to try and find a solution that takes to struggle out of it, even if it’s only a temporary solution–it might allow your daughter to decide something different on her own.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith