"By the time my kids leave for school every morning, my nerves are frazzled and I'm practically in tears from fighting with them to get ready. Then when they're finally out the door, I'm faced with a big mess to clean up and a rush to get myself off to work. Is there an alternative to this situation?"
Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
The family atmosphere is established by the parents, and the tone for the day is set in the morning. Many children and parents start each day with a struggle because they don't take the time to establish a morning routine that works for everyone. Children need adults to supervise setting up a routine. Once children learn how to plan their time in the morning, they feel better and the day goes more smoothly for everyone.
1. Set a deadline for morning chores. In many families, the deadline is breakfast. You can establish a nonverbal reminder to show that a child still has unfinished work. As a family, agree what this nonverbal signal should be.
2. Spend your time taking care of your chores and do not nag or remind the kids about what they need to do. Let them experience the consequences of forgetting. If a child comes to the table with unfinished duties, turn her plate upside down and let her finish her work before she joins the rest of the family for breakfast. This signal needs to be agreed upon with your child in advance.
3. If it is difficult for you to refrain from nagging, take a long shower while your children get ready for school.
4. Establish an agreement that the television doesn't go on in the morning until the chores are done. If your children are watching television and their work is incomplete, simply turn off the set.
5. Let the morning routine chart (see "Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems," item 1 below) be the boss. Instead of nagging, ask your children, "What is next on our morning routine chart?"
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
1. Create a morning routine chart. Sit down with your children at a time when you feel calm and help them brainstorm a list of things they need to do to be ready for school each day. Help them make a chart to help them remember the things on their list. Kids enjoy cutting out pictures from magazines or drawing pictures to paste next to each task on the chart. The chart should be used as a reminder and not as a way to reward children for doing what needs to be done.
2. Get alarm clocks for the kids as soon as they start school and teach them how to use them.
3. You might want to have all the children include a small job that helps the family as part of their list: setting the table, making toast, pouring juice, scrambling eggs, or starting a load of wash.
4. Let your kids decide how much time they need to accomplish everything on their lists and then figure out the time they need to set on their alarm clocks. Allow them to learn from mistakes.
5. Take time for training and have fun by role-playing how the morning will go from the time the alarm goes off.
6. Avoid rescuing kids who need a little time to learn that they can be responsible. Contact their teachers and explain your plan for helping your kids learn to be responsible for getting themselves up and off to school in the mornings. Ask the teachers if they would be willing to allow the kids to experience the consequences of being late to school. It usually takes one or two tardies to change a person's slow morning habits. They might stay in at recess or after school to make up the work they miss.
7. As part of your children's bedtime routine, include preparation for the morning, such as deciding what they want to wear and putting their homework by the front door. Many morning hassles can be prevented by evening preparation.
8. Don't forget to discuss morning hassles during a family meeting, and ask everyone to brainstorm for ideas to make mornings a positive experience.
Life Skills Children Can Learn
Children can learn how to plan their time and contribute to the family. They can learn that they have control over their time and can feel as rushed or calm as they choose. They are capable and do not have to be babied to get things done.
1. Never do for children what they can do for themselves. Empower your children through teaching instead of being a slave to them.
2. With a routine firmly in place, morning can be a delightful and special time with your children. They go off to their day feeling happy and so do you.
3. Some parents sleep in while their children get ready. Instead of seeing this as neglectful, we notice that the children are often very responsible. If this plan works for you, be sure to find special times to spend with your children later in the day.
Mrs. Farnsworth had been taking the responsibility to get Dan, her thirteen-year-old son, out of bed on Tuesday mornings for an early-morning class. She would wake him up; he would go back to sleep. This scenario would continue, with increasing anger on both sides, until Mrs. Farnsworth would yank the covers off. Dan would then stumble out of bed, saying, "Get off my back," and finally leave about half an hour late. Mrs. Farnsworth received a letter from the teacher saying that if Dan missed one more time he would fail the class.
One morning after Mrs. Farnsworth decided to "let go," she went into Dan's room and respectfully asked, "Do you want to go to class this morning, or do you want to miss it and fail the class?" Dan was quiet for a few seconds before saying, "I guess I'll go." Then his mother said, "Do you want me to help you get up, or do you want me to leave you alone?" He said, "Leave me alone." She left, and he called out, "Thanks, Mom." (Quite a difference from "get off my back.") Five minutes later, he was in the shower and left on time. Mom guessed he could feel the difference in her manner and tone of voice and sensed that she would not argue with him.
Mrs. Farnsworth told her parent study group, "It may have been better for me to stay out of it completely and let him experience the consequence of failing the class, but I wasn't quite ready for that. I was ready to accept negative answers to my questions. I was ready to have him consciously choose to sleep in and fail the class." 1
1 From Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott, Positive Discipline for Teenagers (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1994), 203.