How often do parents say, “Oh no! It’s Monday morning again,” or at least think a facsimile of that sentiment on Monday mornings during their children’s school year?
One of the children wakes up at six—which feels way too early—and his sister often refuses to get up until the last minute. All the sweetly voiced, “It’s too early to get up,” for the first child or “Honey, it’s time to get dressed now” for the second is likely to become “GET DRESSED! IT IS ALMOST TIME TO GO TO SCHOOL!” By then breakfast is cold, or worse it’s, “I told you I wanted pancakes, not oatmeal.” On and on this can go with slightly different variations…endlessly!
Since the way things begin is often the way they continue, we need to thoughtfully approach this early-morning time with a goal of making it more peaceful and happy for the whole family.
- The way it is! Let’s think through the mornings as they are. What usually happens? Who does what, again and again? What really needs to be accomplished? Can you discuss this with your children, sharing your desire for mornings to be happier? Brainstorm about school mornings listening carefully at a family meeting. Their take on how the mornings feel to them may hold clues on how to make the time more enjoyable for everyone. Often children can give us answers in surprisingly unexpected ways.
- Planning Ahead: Can anything be made ready the evening before to ease the morning time? Three things I’ve found helpful are: have the children take their baths in the evening before bedtime, make the snacks and lunches in the evening (discussing what to pack), and third, lay the clothes out for the next day. Just these three things can simplify what has to be done in the morning. Having less to do in the morning can help everyone get out of the house more easily. Committing to these three simple ideas consistently will help—consistently is the key to success. Keeping a light-hearted attitude as you make changes may help at least as much as the changes themselves.
- Anticipation: As a parent, make sure you are getting to bed early enough to give yourself the sleep you need. You will find it easier to be patient as you support the process. Get yourself up and ready before you wake your children. You will be ready for whatever happens with patience and a sense of humor that’s not likely if you are playing catch-up. Anticipating what may happen before it occurs makes it possible to avoid old habits of reaction that you wish to change.
- Consistency: Establishing a simple routine will help stabilize the way it goes. The challenging aspects of the morning you want to change are probably habitual. So habits can rule! If it will help, write down the plan, especially if your children can read. Make a chart, using pictures or stickers of activities to show your child(ren) what tasks must be accomplished each morning and in what order. Put your name on the chart too. This is very important and rarely suggested. You will model the success of the new routine. Showing yourself as a part of making the morning a happy time is essential. Try not to give in to discouragement! If it does not work today know that if you stay steady, it will succeed tomorrow. The chart can have rows with words saying:
I get up cheerfully!
I get myself dressed!
I say good morning to my family!
I eat my breakfast!
I brush my teeth!
I get my school backpack and am ready!
- Change happens from the inside out! Now using the chart can be tricky yet it really can work. I know because I have done this many times! First of all, make the chart colorful, discussing each sentence written on it with your children. Remind them of a time when one of them accomplished a sentence such as, “I get up cheerfully!” Since you are recalling actual experience it will change the energy in the present moment from one of, “What does she want me to do now,” to one filled with smiles and pleasant memories. Very young children can appear surprisingly sophisticated as they argue against your requests. The truth is they will use words we adults use but not with the same understanding. Therein lies the challenge for parents. Again and again parents say, “My four year old is so clever she can out-argue me.” Words actually mean as much as the understandings behind them and it is not possible for an “I hate you” from a young child to mean the same thing as it does from an adult. I can’t stress this point enough. What the child means is, “I am uncertain right now, I’m out of control and upset right now, I’m overwhelmed by my big feelings.” So the child uses the most powerful, upsetting words he/she can think of regardless of what they are. This is when we need to take a deep breath and muster patience and our understanding. If we can remain calm and clear-thinking, eventually the explosion will dissipate and we return to the beginning…one more time.
- Repetition: There is no way to avoid repetition. Just as parents can mistake a child’s understanding for having the depth of an adult’s, we can do the just the opposite. We say things like, “I just don’t know why getting ready in the morning is so difficult. The children ought to be able to do this without all my reminders, all the fights!” In this case we misunderstand the child’s ability to handle what seems to us a simple routine. It is not simple to the child. It wouldn’t be necessary to mention it if it really was that simple for children. They need a great deal of repeated guidance and encouragement when a routine doesn’t work the way we wish it did.
- Special room time. If one of your children is an early riser, set an expectation that she stays in her room until a reasonable hour. Carefully show her what she can do in her room. Even set out a few loved stories or stuffed animals you know are often played with. Your child will play quietly, look at books, or put puzzles together in the safety of her bedroom for 30 minutes or so until it is time to get ready for school. Make sure you congratulate her for using her imagination to play independently. Listen carefully to what is shared. It will let you know what to set out for the next morning.