How to get your kids ready and in the car in 50 easy steps

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Little Girl's Dirty Feet Standing on a Sandbox.

Remember the days when you used to be able to just slide into your flip flops, grab your keys and go? Yeah, I can’t really remember those days either. No “childless” person can grasp the energy that goes into leaving the house with young children. Of course, there are the tantrums in the grocery store and bickering in the car, but I’m not talking about managing the behavior once you’re out of the house. I’m just talking about getting ready to go and getting them in the car.

Recently I’ve had the privilege of getting my 4 kids ready for church and into the car on my own. My wife and I are a pretty good team when we are both around, but my experiences with getting kids ready on my own has given me a new respect for parents that do this on their own regularly. Whether you are a single mom or dad, or SAHM or SAHD, my hat is off to you. Getting kids ready to leave the house and into the car is a task that could exhaust an ultra-marathon runner, especially when there are multiple children. I personally have 4 kids ranging from 2 to 8 years old. Our family is active in the community and activities outside our home, so my wife and I have some experience in getting multiple children ready and loaded in the minivan. I’ve decided to let you in on how to get your kids ready and in the car in 50 easy steps.

How to get your kids ready and in the car in 50 easy steps:

1. Announce, “We need to go to the store, please get your socks and shoes on and get in the car.”

2. Start to clean the kitchen while the kids get their shoes on.

3. Realize your children are outside playing in the dirt (the oldest child with one sock on and the other children without socks or shoes)

4. Sigh deeply

5. Open the window and yell out the window, “Please come in and wash off so you can get socks and shoes on and we can go to the store!”

6. Start to put together a diaper bag to take to the store with you.

7. Get diapers, check!

8. Get wet wipes, check!

9. Get change of clothing, check!

10. Get toy or baby blanket, check!

11. Set diaper bag by the front door.

12. Walk out to the dirt where your children are playing.

13. Command them to come inside with you to wash their hands and feet and get socks and shoes on.

14. Walk them into the house one by one.

15. Walk them into the bathroom one by one.

16. Wash your two year old’s hands and feet.

17. Realize the youngest needs a diaper change.

18. Change the diaper with the diaper and wet wipes in your diaper bag.

19. As your child gets up from the diaper change they wipe their snotty nose on your black shirt.

20. You go change your shirt.

21. One child yells, “I can’t find my socks!”

22. Another yells, “I can’t find my shoes!”

23. You scour the house, laundry pile and every nook and cranny for socks and finally find socks in their sock drawer.

24. You look for the shoes and eventually find them outside, filled with dirt.

25. Dump out the dirt, check for living creatures and give them to your child.

26. Each child asks for help putting on their socks and shoes.

27. You help put socks and shoes on.

28. You ask everyone to go get in the car.

29. You realize you used the diaper and wet wipes you had in the diaper bag.

30. You go to the bathroom to get more diapers and wipes for the road and find water flooding the floor of the bathroom where the kids washed their hands and feet.

31. Get towels to soak up the water on the floor.

32. Take the towels to the laundry room.

33. Grab your keys and diaper bag.

34. Walk out to the car.

35. Realize you forgot to get the diapers and wipes in the bathroom.

36. Go get the diapers and wipes you forgot.

37. Walk out to the car.

38. Realize the kids got bored waiting in the car and they are now playing in the dirt.

39. Sigh again.

40. Have a little silent “freak out” session in your head.

41. Say to yourself, “who cares if they’re dirty, just get them in the car.”

42. Dust them off and get the kids in the car.

43. Wait for the two oldest boys to settle the argument over who gets to sit in what seat.

44. Crawl uncomfortably over car seats and children to buckle seatbelts.

45. One of the kids says with a grimace on their face, “I’ve got to pee!”

46. Wait for them to pee and Sigh… again.

47. Get out of the car and shut the doors tight.

48. Utter a few grumpy statements under your breath.

49. Put on your “let’s do this” face

50. Hop in the car and crank up “The Wheels on the Bus.”

I think we’ve all been through this before. We can all relate to multiple commands to get in the car. We all understand the last minute diaper changes, bathroom disasters and dressing children. We can look at it and laugh now, but when you’re in it, it’s no laughing matter. It can really fry your nerves and frustrate the very best of parents. All the unmet expectations that line up one after another and demand we face them can make us want to just say, “Let’s just put the PJ’s back on and try again tomorrow.”

With all of that said, there are some things that we can do to improve our chances of getting ourselves and our children out of the house and into the car in one piece in a timely manner. I’d like to share with you just a few attitudes, tips and tricks to make the process of getting in the car a little less crazy.

6 Attitudes & tips to help out with the “get in the car” process:

1. Prepare them ahead of time: Let them know where and when you are going ahead of time and give them updates as you get closer to your departure time. Give yourself 30 minutes longer than you think you’ll need to get out of the house. Don’t tell them a departure time at first. Let them know it is 15-30 minutes until it will be time for them to stop what they are doing and get ready to go.

2. Prepare yourself ahead of time: Don’t leave your personal tasks like getting bags together, combing your hair, etc. until the last minute. If a task like doing dishes requires your undivided attention, do it ahead of time or decide to do it later after you return home instead of trying to finish it while kids get ready. When you push the “it’s time to go” button be available to either prompt or help the kids through their process.

3. Slow Down: As Rachel Stafford of Hands Free Mama often suggests, slow down in order to enjoy more of what matters most. Rather than rush, rush, rush all the time, stop and play in the dirt with the kids or just take a few extra moments to just enjoy their spontaneity. I realize this isn’t always possible when you are on a specific schedule, but it can make everything a little easier on them and you to simply allow for some detours and be flexible with your time frame and plans.

4. Realize that getting in the car is your agenda, not theirs’: Young kids have little understanding of time or being on time. Even if you are taking them to soccer practice, they do not understand that if you do not go now, you will miss it. They often feel that what they are doing in the dirt pile is every bit as important as what could be waiting at the other end of their car ride. When we rush them to get ready and go here and there, we are asking them to put aside the things that they want and do what we want. That doesn’t mean that this is not necessary at times, but we can be respectful, understanding and grateful for when they respond and do what we ask.

5. Be realistic about your kids’ developmental abilities and help where needed: Consider each child and their development and maturity. It took me several times of asking my four year old to find his own socks and shoes and then to put them on completely unassisted before I realized that I was asking too much. He gets easily overwhelmed and frustrated when he feels like I have asked him to find a needle in a haystack on the clock. Now, my 8 year old is capable of much more and I can actually enlist his help with getting the other kids ready. If we insist on our young children doing everything for themselves we will spend a lot of time frustrated that they can’t do “this one simple task on their own.” What seems simple to us can be overwhelming to them. The decision of what we require them to do on their own is really a question of tradeoffs; Do I want to invite them to do it on their own and recognize that it will take much longer, then kindly and patiently wait? Or… Do I want to devote myself to helping them complete the task in a timely manner, walking hand in hand to fulfill the assignment? Realize that kids don’t know where any of their own stuff is, even if it is where it is supposed to be.

6. Have a specific, calm activity for them to do while you get each kid ready: Once you have helped one child get ready, assign them either a job or an activity that they can do while they wait for the rest of the family to get ready. It can be helpful to make it easily containable. Have them sit down at a table and eat a non-messy snack or color a picture. As I alluded to earlier, my 8 year old son is capable of helping with the getting ready process. The trick is to give small, concise directions and responsibilities. Don’t just rattle off a list.

Truth is, our time frames will never be the same as our children’s. They are still learning about time and growing in their ability to attend to a task and manage responsibility. That doesn’t mean we don’t teach them those things, but we can be a little more patient and practice calming ourselves to better manage ourselves during frustrating moments. We can move forward with some of these habits that support greater efficiency in the family “getting ready” assembly line. So, good luck with the next trip to the store or library and realize that even if it doesn’t go perfectly, there is a father somewhere that appreciates and admires what you do every day.

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