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Is Your Dawdling Child Making You Crazy?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

I don’t lose my temper too often, but one thing that drives me through the roof is when my son dawdles. It seems that the more behind schedule I am, the more he goes into super-slow-mo, taking the opportunity to start finger painting, perhaps wander down to the basement to visit his sled, or go sit in his hide-out in the backyard. I’m not sure why Alex does this, but it seems to me that the faster I try to hurry — and the more frantic I am — the more he takes his time.

Case in point: the other day we were blasting out of the house for day camp, his camp gear swirling around us in a mini-tornado as I attempted to herd my child out the door. I made one last stop to brush my teeth  and asked Alex to put on his shoes and get in the car so we could be on time for the bus for his field trip to the water park that day.

I emerged from the bathroom and looked at the clock — a minor miracle! We were actually 10 minutes ahead of time. (This is an unheard of feat in my house!) I sauntered confidently over to the front door, happy that we would not have to rush — or break the speed limit — on the way to the community rec center.

But what was my little dilly dallyer doing? He was sitting in our front hall, happily tying his shoe laces into tight little knots an Oriental rug dealer would have been proud of. Not only that, but he’d tied both shoelaces together — so he could not actually walk without falling down. And did I mention that he needed to wear those shoes (and only those shoes) in order to play basketball later on in the day at camp?

Truly, I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell him that I wouldn’t take him to camp. I wanted to yell, “Why are you doing this to me?” In fact, I did shout, “Why did you do that? Don’t you know we’re going to be late for camp now, and you might miss your field trip? What were you thinking?!”

My son looked at me, dumbstruck, and said in a quiet voice, “I wasn’t thinking about anything like that.”

The look of utter honesty on his face made me realize that I needed to calm down. I thought of all the EP articles where we tell parents not to personalize things, not to ask “why” questions, and not to yell… and realized I had made those three mistakes, all at the same time. So I took a deep breath and said, “OK, I’ll help you, but we might be late.” I didn’t make it better for him, I didn’t promise to drive him to the water park myself even if we missed the camp bus. (Natural Consequences, right?) Instead, I let him sit in his discomfort for a good ten minutes while I took out the knots.

When the shoes were finally unknotted, I drove to day camp (going the speed limit for once) and watched his worried little face in the rear view mirror. Then I said, “OK Honey, let’s talk about this. What can you do differently next time?”

“I can wait for you in the car?”

“That’s a good start. And do you think when I say it’s time to go, that you could try doing helpful things…and not do things that slow us down, like tying your shoelaces into knots?”

He nodded solemnly.

“OK, that’s great, Honey. Let’s try that,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief as we pulled into the rec center. “And you know what, I think we’re going to make that bus after all.”

And you know what? We did.


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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