Trying to prod a child to hurry is like trying to herd cats—it’s a thankless, nearly impossible job! This week’s question comes from a mom whose five-year-old is taking his sweet time in the mornings…and driving his mother crazy in the process. Read my answer for tips on how to get your dawdling moving at a faster pace.

Q: How do I get my 5 year old to do his morning routine—get dressed, make bed and brush teeth—without being told? We have put up pictures of what needs to be done but he plays instead of getting it done. When told to get it done, he takes a very, very long time to complete everything as he gets distracted or just sits and stares at this and that. He will simply hurry when he sees that I am checking in on him, then dawdle again.

For example if I leave him to get dressed, 10 minutes later, he’s just managed to get his pjs off. Breakfast is much the same. He dawdles and plays and talks but does very little eating. I’ve tried to leave it, and he just goes hungry (usually breakfast as he takes so long to complete his routine or eat). Later on if he is home, pesters me to death about being hungry. I don’t give in but it happens on a regular basis. I’m pretty sick of the dawdling and pestering. How do I solve this?

A: Oh, you’re mornings aren’t beautiful, are they? It’s so hard to “chivvy” (as the Brits say) a child along when said child wants to dawdle. And there’s nothing that can make a Mom’s blood boil as a child who takes forever to eat breakfast or get dressed.

You’re on the right track with the pictures of what needs to be done, but the execution has gotten a bit off track. He knows Mom will come by to remind him of what needs to be done, which means the pictures aren’t accomplishing what you intended.

It’s so hard to “chivvy” (as the Brits say) a child along when said child wants to dawdle. And there’s nothing that can make a Mom’s blood boil as a child who takes forever to eat breakfast or get dressed.

So here’s what I would do. Put the routine pictures on one piece of paper and print off copies, so he can have one each day. Allow him to cross off each item as he completes it. Get an egg timer (these are better than using your phone b/c it’s very visual for the child and has a nice, loud ring to it!) and tell Son that he has 10 minutes to complete each task in the morning. You can set it up as a race to see if he can finish the task before the timer dings. Boys in particular like to race!

Then in the mornings, get him up and set the timer on the first task. Walk away. If he’s not finished when the timer goes off—and chances are good he won’t be finished—you “help” him complete the task (which he probably won’t like). Do it as cheerfully as possible. For breakfast, he can go hungry, but each time he pesters you, give him a chore to do, like wiping the baseboards, wiping the door frames, washing the kitchen floor, sweeping the bathroom floors, etc. Don’t worry if the chore isn’t done really well—you’re training him when he whines, he get work to do.

Then on the days when he doesn’t complete his tasks, directly after supper (and move up his supper to say 5 or 5:30 p.m.), he’s told to get into his PJs and to bed. When he asks why, you say in a soulful voice, “Well, honey, you had such trouble completing your morning routine that the Doctor says you must need more sleep. So off to bed now.”

Repeat as necessary with the fresh routine sheet, timer and early bedtime as required. He will not like feeling like a baby going to bed so early, and will eventually catch on and start to move himself quicker in the mornings. This will take some patience on your part, but the bonus is that you’ll have quieter evenings since he’ll be in bed earlier. Use that time to reconnect with your husband or hobby of your own.