Teen's Trouble Getting Ready in the Morning

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Teen cannot be on time!

Oct 2011

I have seen many variations on postings for time management issues with teens, here is our twist- which we are currently pulling our hair out about. Daughter is a sophomore, good student, plays sports- but takes forever to get ready to go anywhere. Teen obsession with how she looks before going out is one thing, 16 tardies for her first period class last quarter is another! We have tried serious talks about responsibilites/respect for other people's time, grounding her when tardies are reported from school, taking away privileges, always being on time ourselves, etc- she honestly does not seem to get it, and is often not in the least remorseful when called on an incident. Talking to her about how this will affect grades and be a real problem when she joins the working world has not helped. The problem persists even when we give her rides to school (she of course keeps us waiting before being ready to leave) and really, I think she needs to be responsible for getting herself there on time.

Its not just about school either- any time we are going anywhere, the rest of the family is always waiting for her to be ready to leave. I am also a little concerned that inefficient use of time is adding to what seems to be a genuinely heavy homework load- staying up late probably contributes to the morning issues, although I do not think this is the primary cause.

It has become an increasing source of family conflict- I am wondering if there is a tutor (or maybe more of a life coach?) that could support us in these issues. We as the parents are really aggravated, I feel like we need to de-fuse the current situation and figure out a solution- for her own benefit. Any ideas on appraoches would be greatly appreciated! Always on time myself mom

An approach that often works wonders follows from the ''life-skill'' that if you inconvenience someone, you need to apologize and make it up to them. If I waste 10 minutes of someone's time (making them wait to drive me to school, pointless arguing, etc.) then I owe an apology and I need to do something that is ''worth'' about 10 minutes of time - perhaps an extra chore, a note, a favor, or whatever fits the situation. This has to happen before anything else except meals and school.

What makes this approach different is that privileges are not taken away, just postponed. This is huge, because the person who infringed still has an incentive to cooperate (vs. ''I can't go out Friday night anyway, why should I cooperate right now?). It gets you out of a lot of tricky situations, and it helps make you (the parents) feel good because if your time is wasted, you'll at least get an apology and the kitchen floor swept. No more lectures, no more forbidding her to go to the prom (although she might have to go late). If she inconveniences the teacher (the tardies), she would need to apologize and offer to do something extra for the teacher, bring in a ream of paper bought with her allowance - again whatever is appropriate for the situation.

The strategy applies to everyone though, so if you raise your voice, for example, you would owe an apology and a small favor. At work, that's what people do. It works at home too.

Expect resistance. But as long as there is something your daughter cares about (talking with friends, computer time, going out), this approach can make a huge difference. Like any new habit, it takes vigilance to keep it up at first, but the payoffs can be big. Good luck,

This is in response to ''Teen can't be on time!'' Kudos to you for asking for help with this issue. It seems wise to take a wholistic approach rather than to be simply behavioral about it. Linda Lawton is an educational therapist who founded the Center of Attention and Learning http://centerofattentionandlearning.org/file/About_Us.html. She is highly skilled in identifying what underlies the visible challenges and then helping the student to set and meet functional goals leading to more responsible behavior. Time Challenged Mom

9th grade daughter's morning fashion meltdowns

Sept 2007

I am wondering if anyone has had a similar problem. Starting in the 7th grade my daughter would periodically have a melt down in the morning and then miss school for the day. She wouldn't talk to us about what was troubling her and we were able to rule out common things such as bullys, grades, friends, etc. She has always done well, was not behind, had plenty of friends and no enemies. Prior to 7th grade she had a near perfect attendance record. It appeared that the problem was her desire to have the perfect wardrobe, but that seemed so ludicrous that we didn't even look into that possibility. She missed so much school I ended up homeschooling her and she absolutely loved it, seem to flourish, and have a fabulous time with her friends after school and on weekends.

We decided to give 8th grade a try and it started out ok, but then her Grandma suddenly passed away and that shook her to the core (they were extremely close.) She fell back into the morning fashion drama and a counselor that we met with suggested homeschooling her again due to the immense grief and her missing so much school. We put her in an online school and once again she flourished and stayed active with her friends. She finished with a 4.0 Last spring we all agreed that she would enter high school in the Fall with her friends, and that she needed to get out of the house and into a public school. We feel the lectures, labs, social activities, etc are not to be missed in high school.

School has been in session for 7 days now and she has already missed two days due to morning fashion drama. We have bought her plenty of clothes, helped her organize her room, praised her. As I said before I always felt it must be something else other than the clothes, but looking at everything that has happened it really does seem to be about the clothes or whatever they represent. She seems to need the perfect outfit day in and day out. She is a beautiful girl with a fabulous figure and doesn't seem to have any body image problems. She is a hearty eater and is active. But it always seems to come back to the clothes.

Can anyone help me see something that I am not seeing? We are not going to throw in the towel this year because her homeschooling has prevented me from earning a living these past two years (I have had to either teach her myself, or monitor the lessons.) I just found a great part time job and we are trying to earn back all of those lost wages. We have a son in his first year of college with an extremely high tuition, so it is really important that I get back to work. So far this year, on the days she has gone to school, she comes home full of stories about how fun her classes are. She loves her teachers, she is doing her assignments, she has made new friends in addition to all of her old friends. All of her friends attend school regularly and are good kids. Is this just a maturity issue that she needs to work out, or possibly something more serious. Just to let you know......on the days she misses she has to hand us her phone, and her computer comes out of her room. She has only books and art supplies to keep her busy. Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated. JGS

How does your daughter get to school? Does she walk? Do you drive her? Would it be possible to have a friend go to school with her, maybe meet up at your house. If she had a friend there, helping her get ready or just telling her that she looks fine, it might mean more than when you (the parents) do it. Peers have more influence on kids this age, especially girls, and sometimes you can cleverly make peer pressure work for you. I have a 12-year-old daughter who also fusses over her appearance a lot and has come close to refusing to leave the house if she thinks she doesn't look perfect, but if she's got a friend with her she just throws on whatever's lying around and she's good to go. Maybe you could also enlist her friends in an effort to tell her how much they miss her when she's not at school, and reassure her that she looks fine. I know you said you don't want to homeschool any more, but I thought I would just mention that my older daughter enrolled at a public independent study high school called Venture, in the San Ramon School District, as a 10th grader, and loves it. She absolutely hated high school, for many reasons, and she has the discipline necessary to work independently under the supervision of her Venture teacher. If you want to hear more about our experience there please feel free to email me. Just one last word, these pre-teen girls care intensely, almost irrationally, about the things they care about, and we (parents) can't talk them out of it, because they are, basically, being irrational. That's why I would try the slightly more indirect methods (like positive peer pressure) to bring about the desired goal, getting her to go to school. I certainly would not advise threats or punishments (though I have been known to resort to bribes!)

I have a son currently a senior at high school. He went from a private middle school to public high school because that was his choice. Did ok in the 9th and the 10th. By junior year he hated the school so much that from a 3.8 in middle school it went to a 3.5 in the 9th and 10th and then to a 2.7 in the junior year. All his courses were advanced ones all academic still the GPA was poor for him. we did not know what to do to motivate him. He wanted to go to college after junior year and not to school. Finally we found a small accredited school called School For Independent Learners. Check them out on the web. My son loves it there and gets all A's (so far)feels he is actually learning the material and is once again enthusiastic about life. Even got himself an internship, all of which he loves. More importantly he is happy and feels good about himself. Dee

Can you afford to send her to a school with uniforms? Jsst a thought. And, obviously, has she seen a counselor or therapist? Good luck to you and your daughter. Mom of a teen

COULD be that even 'though she is really together in so many ways, the stress she does have about school and it's inherent social dramas, may be crashing down on her in the mornings. Perhaps that is her most vulnerable time for stress and self-esteem, and no matter how great her wardrobe, she will stress out about her clothes (and if not her clothes, if she is really stressed, any issue will do). My kid goes way overboard about her hair once in a while, to the point where we know it is not the hair, but it is the stress about [fill in the blank] e.g., that airplane we really need to leave the house to catch, .... now!

Our family experience is not as intense as yours, but perhaps a daily phone check in with a counselor (every morning? or afternoon? for a few weeks, as needed) to help keep her on track would really help her get over this hurdle. Sounds like if she doesn't, it will truly impact your work and your family's financial situation. Sounds like you might be doing her a huge service to help her learn to deal with her stress and move on. A great skill to have inlife. Anon

Hard time getting 12-year-old out of bed and out the door

Feb 2000

Are there other single parents of preteens/teens who are having a difficult time at getting the kids out of the bed, out of the mirror and out of the house?

Every morning my 12 year old son and I go at it. He doesn't want to get up because he is tired although he went to bed at 10am or earlier. Then once he is up he moves so slowly getting ready. Once he is ready he can spend 15 minutes in the bathroom just brushing his hair. So most times we leave the house upset which is not good for him or myself. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thx!

Due to the necessity of my getting to work, I leave the house at 7. Both the 12 and the 16-year old get themselves to school, either by calling a friend for a ride or riding a bike. It's worked this way for several years now. One is NEVER tardy, the other once in a while.

What is significant, is that if I stay home from work, they ALWAYS N-E-E-D a ride, they can't find their books, their shoes are lost, they need money, I HAVE to pack their lunch, etc. etc, etc,etc and we're usually late to school! Change your work hours! Good luck.

To the mother developing ulcers over her 12-year-old's slow morning routine, here is my advice as the parent of two older teens, because I was definitely in her shoes with each of mine! 12 is a great age for you to stop owning the responsibility for your son getting to school on time. It is his responsibility. Let him know that your car is pulling out of the driveway at X hour of the morning. If he wants a ride, he will have to be in the car on time. If not, supply him with some AC Transit bus tickets to get to school. Let him have the experience of being late and let him live with the results. At the age of 12 you aren't risking college denial if he takes a quarter or so to learn the lesson. I would not initiate consequences at home for his tardiness until you see how he responds to the challenge and the consequences he will face at school. Good luck!

You didn't say what time your child gets up in the morning, but I find that my kids (age10 and 13) need to get to bed a lot earlier than 10 to be human in the morning. The 13 year old gets to bed (only somewhat unwillingly ) by 9 or 9:15 pm, and gets up at 7am. That gives him almost an hour to work on showering, breakfast, and the all important hairstyling. Lots of adolescents need on the order of 9-10 hours of sleep at night. You might try inching bedtime a little earlier.

My kids are 14 and 17. They have always gotten their own breakfast since they were old enough to pour milk, and they've been getting to school on their own - walking or skateboarding or catching the bus - since 2nd grade. But they were both 13 or 14 before they were really waking themselves up, getting out of bed, showering and dressing without any intervention from me. I feel certain other parents must be more successful than I was at this. But that was my experience despite years of trying to get them to do it on their own. The 14-year-old until this school year never heard the alarm go off, or would turn it off and go back to sleep, or would argue with me, in his sleep, about what time it was and how much time he needed to get out of the house.

Here are some ideas that I've had some luck with:

- let them pick out their own alarm clock. I recommend one with a radio so they can wake up to their own music. My kids also like big numbers on the display and they like auto shut-off. They listen to the radio while they are getting dressed and then it cuts off after they leave for school and I guess stays set for the next morning. Interestingly, they do remember to un-set the alarm on Sat and Sun.

- make sure the backpack is packed the night before and waiting by the front door.

- I never, ever drive them to school no matter how late they are, so if they even bother asking, they already know the answer.

- let them develop their own morning routine. My older son always makes the same old Kix and OJ every morning and then spends 30 minutes reading the sports page. It never varies. He always leaves just in time to catch his bus, which he has calculated to be exactly 7:47am. He carefully manages his monthly allowance so he always has lunch money and a bus ticket. He is neatly dressed and appears to be clean. The other kid rushes downstairs with 5 minutes to spare, begging for money, pleading for a ride, frantically searching for shoes, jacket, books, grabbing stuff out of the fridge to eat on the way to school. He is usually wearing the clothes he slept in (saves time) which may be the same clothes he's been wearing for several days. His uncombed hair is mashed down in competing directions. But he usually makes it in on time so I am learning to ignore his mad rush in the morning.

- Assuming they have an alarm clock, and there is food in the house, at some point you have to leave it to them to get themslves up and out of the house. For me the point was about 14. Let them be late for school if they don't get up in time. When I started leaving the house early a couple mornings a week, they figured out that if they didn't get themselves up, nobody would, and they'd be late. It only took a few days to work.

About stressful mornings - I can remember some really nasty morning yelling episodes when the older one was 13. Everything ticked him off. He'd leap up from the breakfast table screaming and storm out, slamming doors. What a way to start the day, huh? It's much better now. Maybe he outgrew it or maybe I figured out how to keep things calm. Here are some things to try that sort of worked for me:

- let them eat what they want for breakfast. One of my kids wants non-traditional breakfast food like a leftover hamburger, or sushi, or just a milkshake. Sometimes all they eat is a donut.

- if they are grouchy when they get up (mine are), don't talk to them - it makes them mad. They don't seem to mind if you hang out in the kitchen while they are eating though, as long as you don't talk.

- try to spare 15 or 20 minutes of no-stress morning time where you are just hanging out with them - even if you're reading the paper or doing chores at the same time. For me, this has been the time when important topics have come up spontaneously - politics, drugs, sex, events at school, etc. and it makes the morning more peaceful too.

- I always give them a good-bye kiss on the cheek as they are leaving (or on the back of the head or in the air when they are rushing by fast). Even when they are mad. Sometimes they try to dodge me but they seem pleased anyhow and I think it sweetens the morning for all of us.


Re: Kid who will not get ready in the morning: Maybe he is unhappy at school: maybe is being teased or doesn't get along with a teacher. I think a lot of times when kids are dragging their feet in the morning it is because they don't want to do whatever comes next.

This is a tough problem that a lot of people have, myself included. I have one child who got his father's chronically late gene and one who got my pathologically on-time gene (and a third who's easy.) We leave the house at 6:35 am in order for them to get to school for the early period.

With this child, for his entire life since he could dress himself it has been a series of trainings that have to be reinstituted from time to time. He goes for a while being more or less on time (but ALWAYS the last out the door) to making us late. Then we crack down again on the processes that help him structure his getting-ready time. Structure, enforced by the parent, is the key. Here's the structure we have used:

- Lay out clothes, pack lunch, and pack backpack before bed. You can even go so far as to put cereal in a bowl with plastic wrap over it if he eats breakfast at home.

- Go to bed at a reasonable hour.

- He owns his alarm clock - his responsibility to set it and to get up when it goes off. Don't give in to the temptation to check on him and wake him up when you think he should get up. If I have not heard my son get up and it is 10 minutes til we leave, then I sound the alarm, and how, with a little browbeating thrown in for good measure. I do NOT change my leaving time if this happens. H e has to scramble and leave the house with his shoes in his hands, no breakfast an d even without his homework, if necessary, so that the consequences of his being late fall on HIM, not on me and his sister.

- We leave at exactly the same time every morning. I give 5 and 10 minute warnings: We're leaving in 10 minutes. We're leaving in 5 minutes. Even We're leaving in 1 minute. This rigid predictability of the departure time provides important structure for him.

This works moderately well for us. Even though my son is 15, we are still working on this. I understand when there is only one parent it is a lot harder, as my husband travels a lot. One time this year nothing was working to get our son to be on time, so I actually left with his sister without him, and he had to get his father and little sister up early to take him to school, a break in thei r routine. He got a browbeating that time too, from his dad, and it worked like a charm - for a while.

Good luck! Catherine

Tips Re: Morning Crunch, difficulty getting middleschooler to class on time - Set your clocks, all over the house, about 5 minutes ahead, without informing other family members. Offer reward of grooming supplies for being on time, or breakfast treat, out (from 7-11, MacDonald's or bakery) if you leave home early enough. Dock allowance for tardiness.