Need Ideas for Managing Toddler Meltdowns Every Morning

Updated on May 17, 2010
C.D. asks from Eugene, OR
21 answers

Hi everyone-
I am hoping for a few ideas on how to manage my toddler's behavior in the mornings. She is 2 1/2 and is very strong-willed and spirited. We have a pretty good routine that works well, except for her major temper tantrums every morning, which makes it really hard to get her out the door to daycare. Our usual routine is to get her out of bed by 7:30a with the goal of getting out the door by 8a. We first change her diaper and get her dressed, then give her a vitamin while I do her hair and get her socks and shoes on. She them likes to go tell daddy that she's ready. As soon as my husband is ready she chooses a coat and then my husband will take her to daycare.

On a good day (1 out of every five) this works beautifully. But most days she does not want to get out of bed and she yells at us to "close the door." When we finally get her out of bed, she fights us getting her diaper changed and dressed. When I finally get her dressed she typically has a meltdown on the way to the living room where I brush her hair and give her a vitamin. And then if she is ready before my husband is, she gets really impatient and has another meltdown and will refuse to get her coat on. She will then kick and scream on the floor and fling her shoes off. Some mornings my husband has to literally pick her up and throw her over his shoulder to get her to the car. And almost always, within five minutes of getting in the car, she is fine and happy and excited to go to school!

Aaaarrrggghhh! How do you handle mornings with your toddler? What techniques do you use to get them out the door? Any ideas are appreciated! Thanks!

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So What Happened?

We are now on Day 2 of Operation Happy Morning and I want to thank everyone for all your wonderful suggestions! We haven't seen a huge improvement yet, but I know change takes time. But it feels better already!

Many of you suggested she should eat when she wakes up, however she does get breakfast at her daycare center, which she loves. I know she wold end up eating twice if we fed her a meal here before taking her to school. :) She's also a reeaaalllly slow eater so I worry that we would never get out the door if we fed her at home! I am giving her some juice (watered down) when she wakes up and she does seem to enjoy that. I think many of you were right when you said we needed to get her blood sugar up. It seems to help start her day a little happier. :) Great suggestion!

We are also opening her door about 15 minutes before we want her to wake up so that the noises of the house gently help wake her. She hates it when we wake her, especially if she is in a deep sleep. it was really cute to see her pad into the kitchen all happy this morning.

We are also waking her up about 20 minutes earlier so we have time to snuggle and read books while she drinks her juice. She loves to read books, and this is such a nice start to the day for both of us. Although when it does come time to then get her dressed she was not a happy camper today or yesterday. She is enjoying story time on my lap with her juice and having to transition to a diaper change is NOT what she wants *sigh*. So we have had meltdowns both yesterday and today. :( But I think it will get better. In fact. today was better than yesterday!

Many of you suggested lots of praise and encouragement, which we are fairly good at, but we will keep heaping it on! On occasion, I use candy rewards (mini-Smarties) for doing what we ask without fussing. I liked someone's suggestion of using a rubber stamp on her hand. I think I will go to the craft store and pick some up today. I loved that idea! The other suggestion that was a great reminder is to keep the morning routine FUN! This was helpful as I think I get so stressed it makes my daughter crabbier. So thank you for that reminder!

All in all, Operation Happy Morning is off to a good start. Thanks to all you great mommies out there!

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answers from Washington DC on

Here are some things to try:
- Vitamins - give them to her before bedtime.
- Diaper changes - do them in the bed while she's still sleepy. Have a glass of milk or OJ ready so that when she does wake up, she can get something to drink and get her blood sugar up.
- Clothes - this is a constant fight in my house. Either have her sleep in her clothes - works wonders!- or just a diaper - then she has to get dressed.

Mine has fought me about getting dressed and there have been days when I just put her in her carseat with just her panties and a blanket - clothes and shoes are in a bag. Usually before we leave or just as we get there, she's ready to get dressed.

Good luck

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Hmm, any chance of getting her up say 20 minutes earlier and giving her milk or breakfast and spending a little time with her? Or a warning that she needs to get up in 10 minutes? Maybe she finds it difficult to cope with the morning rush and may just not be a morning person. Perhaps a more relaxed routine with a bit more time for her to wake up would help.

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answers from Seattle on

I too have a strong willed/ spirited toddler and these two books have really helped us decrease the tantrums and battles:

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic [Paperback]
Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (Author)

Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries by Robert J. Mac Kenzie
(Both books are on amazon)

Also, I have found that letting my daughter know what comes next helps and making things more fun for her. Also limit distractions. This limits the conflict for us. I do her hair while she washes her hands, if you park in the garage you might take her coat and put it on when you get out of the car at your destination just to get out of the house. The shoes! We had this problem too. We carried her to the car distracting her (singing, big hugs, she's flying etc and then get her in the car put the shoes on. There is no battle.) We had success with the shoes and coat so we now moved them to a bench in the (mudd room) garage now so she can put them on with her coat with out any distractions and now "races" to the car seat to be the "first one in".

As far as the the yelling at you, my daughter was yelling "get out of here" in the mornings. Nip it as soon as you can because it got worse for us at age 3 . We finally stopped it by making her apologize and then thanking her for her apology and then letting her know what she could say " You can say...Dad, can I have more time? , or Mom I want to do it. Then she usually says it in a softer tone and we respond in a soft calm tone.This seemed to help A LOT.

I fought with my daughter every morning to keep her clothes on. Finally we came up with the idea to have "Princess dresses" "Rock star dress" etc.( I just went to a consignment store a bought a whole bunch of basic cute girls dresses.) She knows she has to wear leggings under them when we go out but she keeps her clothes on now. I remind her about 5 mins before I put them on her but when we get home she gets to take the leggings off if she wants to.

Naps were a fight too and now we have "Nap Nap" dresses that she only gets to wear at Nap Time" they are just sleep jammie dresses I got at Osh Gosh.

One more idea I haven't tried yet is making pictures with Velcro on the wall or a board in order of what comes next. When she completes the tasks she gets to attach the photo. Then she can show the other parent the completed game. I have heard this works great.

Sorry I had such a lengthly response but I really wanted to help. We are going through this but we are seeing some great results and it is getting better with a lot of persistence on our part. I know it is easier said that done and harder with spirited children because they test ALL the time.
Hope all this helps. You'll get through this!


I just read Megan's answer. She is right on. Set your self up for success. Have the milk ready, etc. Have the next step ready to go to help make it happen with ease. A lot of our meltdowns happen during the time I am getting things together for her. Once you get one step ahead of her it helps.

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answers from Seattle on

This sounds a lot like how our mornings were going. We moved bedtime about half an hour earlier (tricky with getting home from daycare and doing dinner, bath, etc). And we started opening his bedroom door about 15 minutes before we had to wake him up. We don't make noise deliberately but have the news on, we're making coffee etc so the sounds of the house start to wake him up. He's a million times happier when he starts to wake up that way. We still go in and get him up with a hug but we're not raising him from a deep sleep. Those simple changes helped us a ton.

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answers from Madison on

Maybe she needs to sleep a little longer in the morning? My toddler is happier if he wakes up by himself, instead of us waking him up. You can try to put her to bed a little earlier at night.

Half an hour is not a lot of time to get ready and get out of the house. If you had a little bit more time, you can be more relaxed and do not have to rush her. Your stress might be rubbing on to her. Some cuddling for a few minutes and being relaxed may help to put her into a better mood.

As others suggested, getting her blood sugar up may help. I usually give my son some milk as soon as he wakes up, and this makes him happier until breakfast is ready.

Mine doesn't like to get his diaper changed as the first thing when he wakes up. I usually leave it to later, when he is more awake. I guess when they wake up, they want to stand up and do not want to be lying down any longer. I would postpone changing the diaper to later.

My toddler does not like being changed or putting clothes on either. Another tactic I use is to distract him with a song or a toy he likes when changing him. Be calm and do not stress out even if she fusses, that diaper will be changed one way or the other. And if you are calm, she is more likely to be calm too.

Also, getting him to try to put his socks, pants etc on by himself sometimes help. You can try letting your daughter choose what to wear (between two shirts, for example, not too many choices), so she will be more likely to be willing to put it on.

Another idea is to let her know what you will be doing next (in 2-3 minutes) beforehand, so she knows what to expect. Something like "we will change your clothes next, we need to put your nice clothes on to go to school. No fussing, OK?).

About putting on the coat just before leaving, mine started not wanting to put his coat on too. I sometimes make him choose between two (or three) coats, which sometimes help. I also open the door to let some cool air in and say that it is cold outside so we need to put the coat on. When he feels the cool air he is more likely to put it on :-)

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answers from Columbus on

Maybe she is hungry? I would get her up earlier, give her some juice in a sippy to help ease her out of bed, maybe if her blood sugar was a little higher, she would be cooperative. A small breakfast while she wakes up might give her a little time to adjust to the idea that her day is starting, especially if she eats breakfast at daycare, which I am assuming, since a vitamin would not be enough sustain her until morning snack time. Feed her, and give her a little more than half an hour to get going, some kids need more.

One more toddler tip, avoid telling her what to stop doing, and tell her what to do instead. When she says "close the door" instead of saying "don't say that" say "say good morning instead" when she tantrums, instead of saying things like "don't do that" say " hold your feet still on the floor" or "put your hands down" or "us a quite voice" It is more easy for them to do something specific that you say to do at this developmental stage than it is for them to process what you said not to do into an appropriate action. Success breeds success. When she has a good day, praise her like crazy.

Good luck,

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answers from Portland on

I have to agree with many of the answers: earlier bedtime, earlier wake-up and lots of positive attention. A half-hour for so many transitions is a huge expectation for a toddler to fulfill. I also agree with Expat Mum; that is to say, the habit of the tantrum also comes into play, so changing the routine somewhat is huge.

I'm an adult and am quite a bear without food in the morning. Some kids do need a bit of milk or something else to elevate blood sugar levels in the morning after they've fallen overnight.

Tiredness, hunger, and brain immaturity (processing small annoyances as large, painful moments) are big contributors to tantrums. Having a new routine that takes longer but features lots of positive moments (maybe wake up with a shorter story in a parent's lap while having a cup of milk?) can really turn these things around. If she's craving connection, this is a great way to start. My son is three and loves to just snuggle up in bed with one of us for 15/20 minutes or so if we have time in the morning.:) Remember, too, that while she likes school and will put on a happy face for them that she loves you and Daddy more than daycare!

Best wishes!

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answers from Chicago on

You definitely need to change this routine, because her tantrums have become part of it. I agree that you should give yourselves more time in the morning. Perhaps she is feeling that a half hour is too rushed? Also, definitely make sure she has enough to eat before attempting to do anything else.
One thing I used to do was set out a few outfits that were appropriate and then let my toddlers "choose" what they wanted to wear. (Avoids arguments.) If she is strong-willed then she'll want to feel as capable as possible. Perhaps also let her brush her teeth, before you take over and do them for her.
If she doesn't want to get out of bed in the morning, it could be part of the tantrum routine, but consider that she might not be getting enough sleep. Kids this age need 11-12 hours per night.
Good luck.

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answers from Seattle on

my son is 2 1/2 also and has strong opinions/will. i have found a half hour is not enough time in the morning. toddlers don't do well with rushing thru a list of parent's tasks. we have a lot we want to do in that time, but it would help if there is time for what your daughter might want to do. she might be happier getting out of bed if her day started differently.

i try to have an hour in the mornings. we start with a short snuggle time when he wakes up, we talk about things or read a book, hug, he gets my undivided attention (10 mins +/-). i tell him what type of day it is (weekend or school day) and what is goign to happen. then we do diaper change and something for breakfast and he plays a little bit (with me or dad if i have time, by himself if we dont). the order of those things varies, he gets to decide which choice he wants for breakfast, does he want to change the diaper first or after he gets his breakfast bar/cheerios/milk/whatever. i tell him if we have to change clothes that day and when it is time for shoes and coat. (if he bathes the night before i just put on his shirt he will wear the next day. then all i have to do is take off his pj pants and put on his clean pants when i change his diaper the next morning.)

the thing that makes the biggest difference for us is taking the rush out of the morning. when everyone is rushed, its hard to have the time or patience to make a game out of changing clothes, or give them "two minutes" til its time to put on shoes, or whatever. toddlers like to have some control and your attention in their little ego centric world. finding ways they can have both (within what you want done) goes a long way to avioding the meltdown stage.

the other thing i've found is my son does much better when he knows what is coming so it is key that we talk about what is going to happen today beforehand.
sometimes i feel like i actually narrate our entire life in advance these days :) i do it for everything now. if we're going to the store, i tell him what is going to happen, would he like to help with___, explain if he needs to sit in a cart or be quiet. it has helped a ton!

last note, the point a lot of people made about food is true for us. since we have been doing the 'talk about it first' system, we hardly ever have a meltdown morning or daytime unless i forget to feed him and he gets too hungry. occasionally at night when he is tired is the other time it will happen.

hope this helps some and good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

You didn't mention this but do you disipline her to let her know that this sort of behavior is not OK? I know toddlers just have melt downs - we have a 2 year old so believe me I understand. But when our son does have them we try to get him to calm down so we can talk him down from it but if that doesn't work he goes into time out or gets another form of discipline so that he starts to get the idea that that is not an ok way to act. After that he is generally much better. Good luck - I know it is super hard but just try to have patience.



answers from Chicago on

well i can tell you the first thing i would do is skip the vitamin first thing in the morning. give it to her at supper or bedtime. doesn't really matter when she has it as long as it gets down. you don't say if she is going to a home daycare or a daycare center. if its a home daycare then skip the whole dressing / changing etc. pick her up out of the bed and carry her to the car and go. if she fights that then tell her if she won't get ready to go nice she will go in her pj's with pee diaper. have a bag ready to go for just that scenario. it won't happen often. the other option may be to get her up a lot earlier. she just may need more time to wake up. I myself would opt for the other option. pick her up and go. a lot less stress for all involved.



answers from Portland on

Prep a sippy cup of carnation instant breakfast and give it to her while you get her ready. It will distract her, and provide a fairly healthy breakfast.



answers from Chicago on

First, is she getting enough sleep? I would definitely consider moving bedtime a 1/2 hour earlier. See if that helps her out in the morning. Also, I would turn the grouchy response into a game, instead of a fight. Run into her room and playfully tickle her awake, saying "What??? I don't understand the words you said. Did you say you wanted to be tickled?" You may be surprised how much better YOU will feel when you "ignore" the ugly response and start to play (instead of seething over it!)

Aren't the toddler fights maddening! The worst for me was always getting the shoes on. These are the situations in which positive reinforcement work best. When she gets on her shoes without a fight (or allows her diaper to be changed, etc.) make a HUGE deal about how great it is -- and give her a sticker to wear on her shirt or stamp on her hand. (I keep a stamp pad in the car too...when they get into the car promptly, eveyone gets a hand stamp!) Day after day, you can reinforce -- "Wow!! You got 2 stamps today...that's the most ever! Be sure to show your teacher at daycare!"

When she doesn't behave the way you prefer, be sure to gently remind her that she didn't get a sticker/stamp. ("Shoot, you didn't earn any stickers today. But the good news is that you'll have another chance tomorrow!")

You'll be pleased with how well positive reinforcement works. Then, the behaviors become habits and she won't need the stickers/stamps down the road.



answers from Seattle on

Lots of times if we are having difficult episodes with our 2.5 year old, my husband and I switch places. If the routine isn't working for me, he will take over next time and usually get a different result. We have found what might not work for one of us, works for the other. Especially if it is just you and the child or your husband and the child. Some kids love their routine and some need some shuffling of their routine from time to time. Our son is spirited as well and keeping him on his toes sometimes works to our advantage. Good luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter and your daughter would get along well!! I would describe my 2 year old in a very similar manner. Here are a few things that work for us: we give her milk right away--sometimes even bring it to her bed. If your daughter doesn't like milk, maybe diluted juice would work if she likes that. My daughter also hates getting dressed and getting her diaper changed (but we usually do this after breakfast). I've tried a couple things that often work (not always), one is to motivate her by saying we can't go to daycare until she gets dressed, and like your daughter, she likes daycare, so it does work as a motivator. Or I'll use something else as a motivator, like having a snack in the car or taking a doll or toy with her in the car, but she needs to let us get her dressed first. Since we dress her after breakfast, this is a little different, but I give her the choice of walking into her bedroom herself or me picking her up and carrying her. If she wants to walk, I count to three, and if she's not walking by three, I tell her I have to carry her, and that's what I do! Good luck!



answers from Portland on

Lots of good ideas below. What about giving her something to look forward to in the morning that allowed some extra bonding time with you or your husband? When my two and a half year old was in daycare I flexed his bedtime and wake up time to be earlier so that every morning started with ten minutes of cuddle/book time with me. We kept a consistent routine everyday which also included a cup of milk to curb any hunger. By the way, he too is a spirited child pron to LONG tantrums. They say that's the sign of a bright kiddo - right?! :)



answers from Portland on

She needs food! My boys (3 and 4) can not function without some source of morning protein/carb. It is like night and day.....
Perhaps even a snack right before bed so her blood sugar doesn't drop so much overnight.
You have gotten other great ideas to manage the routine/behavior. But handing her something to eat/drink first thing will do wonders.


answers from Eugene on

Put her to bed earlier. I had my children ready for be at 7:30 pm, teeth brushed, story read and all since they were champion sleepers. At first I woke the younger one up at 7:00 to give her enough time to get ready. She just needed her time not to have a meltdown.
My older one did not have morning traumas. Then we were off to day care shortly after 8 am.



answers from Charlotte on




answers from Seattle on

Is it possible that she is too tired in the morning? Can you move bedtime a half hour earlier?



answers from Miami on

I have found great ideas from Dr. Harvey Karps "Happiest Toddler on the Block" or Elizabeth Pantley's "No Cry Discipline solution". I think both may have a website as well.


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