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Getting the Lead Out

Parent to Parent

Every day it’s the same: Our 10-year-old son is slow getting ready for school or events, while our always-prompt daughter gets increasingly anxious about being late. It’s gotten to the point where we’re afraid her anxieties are going to expand into other areas. How do we nip this in the bud?

—Daughter in Distress

Ugh. Getting everyone out the door is like herding cats, and emotions can run high all around. But there’s nothing like real life situations to offer fantastic learning opportunities... right?

For example, your daughter can learn flexibility, patience, empathy, communicating her needs in a way others can hear, and how to tame her own anxieties. Meanwhile, your son can learn to use time wisely, be organized, and take responsibility for how his choices impact others.

These sticky spots respond well to structure and clear expectations. For example...

Have a Family Meeting: What works well in the morning? What isn’t working for each family member? Develop a plan for each person to work on individually, AND a team plan to work on together. (Note: They may not like the plan, and that’s okay.)

Individual Plans

Your Son: Validate that getting organized is hard for him. Help him develop an organized plan, then hold him accountable for following it. Remember, “muscles” for organizing and planning need to be worked. The discomfort of practicing these skills is the feeling of the brain making new connections!

If he’s not ready and at the door by the agreed-on time, he’ll be fined for each minute he’s late. No nagging. No threats. No reminders. Silently keep track of his minutes. (And take deep breaths.)

Fines should be paid in service to those he impacted. For example, each minute can equal $1 of fines, which add up over the week. Ways to pay back include cleaning sister’s room, weeding and/or mowing the yard, putting sister’s laundry away, playing a game of her choice, etc. Fines need to be paid off BEFORE he can have freedom to do things of his choice.

His lateness is now impacting him. THAT’S important. THAT’S the teachable moment.

You can also simply leave on time, whether he’s completely ready or not. If he forgets his lunch, he’ll be hungry. If he fails to brush his teeth, he can be fined for that or other missed “to do” items.

Your Daughter: Anxiety is normal, and important too. The discomfort can alert us to danger or motivate us to meet a deadline. And, sometimes, it just gets in our way. (See this post I wrote about helping kids tame anxiety: practicalparentingpdx.com/helping-kids-tame-worry/)

Talk to her. And really listen. Empathize. Say something like, “It’s really important for you to be on time and it really bothers you when he’s late. That makes sense to me. I can understand why that bothers you. You work hard to be organized and on time and when he isn’t, it gets in the way of your plan. He’s working on different things than you are. Being patient while someone learns something you already know can be hard.”

Making a plan as a family, and as individuals, helps kids feel heard and valued. Having our feelings validated goes a long way toward being more patient and flexible with ourselves and others. Just remember: deep breaths. Learning can be messy, and irritating. Hang in there.


Tracey Biebel Johnson LCSW, is a family therapist with a private practice in Portland. For more good advice, see PracticalParentingPDX.com.