Trying to get our kids out the door on time in the morning can be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor. Even when we start off determined to make THIS morning better, we can still end up with arguments and tears. What to do?

One of the themes I keep coming back to with parents is the importance of letting our kids know we understand how they are feeling. Even the most empathic among us are sometimes surprised by how easy it is to deny our kids’ feelings. It happens when we are stressed, or under pressure, or just plain exhausted. In other words, most days!

At this time of year, the reality of the school routine has sunk in, and the newness has worn off. Even my son, who was so excited at the beginning of school—new teachers, new school supplies, seeing his friends, so much to look forward to—has lost his enthusiasm after a few weeks.

Here’s what I hear when it is time to leave:

“I don’t want to go.”

“I’m tired.”

“I’m not finished eating.”

“Why do we have to go to school every day???”

“I want YOU to put my shoes on.”

Sound familiar?

Here’s what doesn’t work:

“You had such a good time yesterday. Don’t you want to see your friends?”

“It’s your own fault for running around at bedtime. Tonight, you’re going to bed early!”
(I hate you!)

“Hurry up — we’re going to be late!”
(Why should I hurry? I’d rather be late, or not go at all!)

“If you don’t come by the time I count to three, you can’t watch a video tonight.”
(I don’t care! I hate you!)

“You know how to put your own shoes on. Come on, let’s go!”
(I can’t. I don’t want to.)

Even though it might seem counterintuitive, acknowledging that he REALLY doesn’t want to go is often the most helpful thing I can say:

“You are NOT in the mood for school right now.”

“Don’t you wish they would make school start later, so we wouldn’t have to rush in the morning?”

“I bet if you were in charge, you wouldn’t make children go to school every day!”

Of course, if I can manage to be a little playful while we were getting ready and change the mood, it feels like magic:

“Listen, I hear your shoes calling to you: [in funny voice] ‘We miss your feet. Please warm us up!’” (If he starts giggling, I know I am on the right track.)

And sometimes, it helps to plan something to look forward to, once we get in the car:

“Do you want to pick the music we listen to on the way over?”

“Shall we make up a story about kids who NEVER have to go to school?”

Julie King, JD, is a bestselling author and parent educator at the Center for Children and Youth.