It is the time of year again when many children are headed back to school. For some children, especially those on a traditional school calendar, this represents a return to early morning routines. While people of all ages generally thrive with consistent routines, many parents find mornings to be chaotic despite their best efforts and dislike the negative interactions they have with their children as a result. Although there are many different obstacles which can cause problems for individual families common issues include dawdling, distractions, and defiance. The suggestions outlined below are a great starting place to tune up your family’s existing routines and make mornings more pleasant for everyone involved.
Prep for success the night before.
First, it is important that everyone in the family is getting good sleep and enough of it! We want to make sure your child isn’t dawdling due to exhaustion. Lack of quality sleep will make even people with the most cheerful disposition rival Oscar the Grouch. We’ll be talking more about sleep in a future blog post so stay tuned for more information! Let’s consider another way to prepare for the morning. How many times have you found yourself running around looking for something (e.g., articles of clothing or homework) when you should be in the car and on your way to school or work?
If this sounds familiar it would be beneficial to alter your afternoon or evening routine to help everyone be ready for the next day. Encourage your children to organize their homework and backpacks nightly (and check after them). Having a designated space for your children to place things they need for the next day will teach them organization skills and reduce morning time stress. Similarly, have your family choose and set out clothes for the next day the night before. Often, when children watch their parents use these strategies, they are more likely to pick up the same good habits with a little coaching!
Make it a game.
This is a favorite tip for parents with kids who are distractible or tend to dawdle. It works best for children who are developmentally advanced enough to know what steps they need to take in the mornings, but find themselves playing with toys or watching TV instead of getting ready.
To play “BeattheBuzzer,” you will need a timer (preferably an egg timer or digital timer) that your child can easily see. You will also want to allow yourself and your child ample time to get ready. For example, if your child normally takes 35 minutes to complete his or her morning routine and you believe it should only take 1520 minutes, wake him or her up with 45 minutes to get ready. You can then challenge your child to complete all the steps in the morning routine and race the clock or “beatthe buzzer,” which you might initially set for 30 minutes. As your child successfully meets the goal you can gradually decrease the time allotted for the same morning activities.
If your child “wins” the game by completing all the agreed upon steps before the timer goes off, then he or she should be rewarded by using the remaining time (e.g., 15 minutes) to play a game, watch TV, or engage in another fun activity. If he or she doesn’t “beatthebuzzer” then the “reward” (fun activity) is not allowed that morning, and the child can try again the next day. This way, even if your child isn’t able to finish in time, you will still be able to help him or her finish getting ready before your family needs to leave. It also allows your reminders during the routine to be as simple as, “Will you beat the buzzer this morning?” Keep in mind that younger children may benefit from visual reminders of their morning routine!
Don’t take it personally.
This tip is a difficult one. It definitely feels personal when your child is shuffling his or her feet as slowly as possible or refusing to put on shoes for the third day in a row when you are trying to get to school on time! Do your best to take a deep breath and keep your voice calm and steady in the moment. Children can push parents’ buttons and exhibit defiant behavior for a number of reasons. However, it is not likely that your child is purposefully trying to make you late for work or ruin your day. Maybe your child is tired, nervous about something at school, worried about leaving you, looking for your attention, or maybe those shoes are just too small! Try to remain calm in the moment, praise good behavior when you see it, and look for humor in the situation later.
Mornings can be a stressful time of day for any family. However, with consistent structure and management strategies, mornings can become much easier. That being said, if your child exhibits unmanageable behaviors or your mornings often turn into arguments, it might be beneficial for you and your family to consult with a therapist who can work with you to determine if there are any underlying factors that contribute to these difficulties. A therapist who specializes in working with children or families can guide parents to be awesome coaches for their children.
Have fun beating the buzzer!