Parents from stay-at-homers to astrophysicists report that the single most challenging trial encountered all day is that time from wake up to drop off. The following suggestions are not guaranteed, but to do nothing will lead to a state of learned helplessness, so at least give some of these suggestions a try:
- List all of the things than YOU need to do in the morning and a realistic time frame. Truthfully evaluate if you are trying to do too many things and see if some things can be done the night before (showering, making lunches, ironing clothes).
2. Stay focused. Resist checking emails and making calls. Consider getting up 45-30 minutes before the kids to allow some “me” time.
3. Make sure everyone is getting enough sleep but not sleeping too late. Children need about 10-12 hours of sleep. Avoid rushing! When children perceive parental urgency they go into sloth mode.
4. Post a visual schedule of all the things the kids have to do in the morning. Let them check these things off as they go. Kids should get dressed before they eat. If they get dressed in a defined time period, reward them with a sicker or token. For young children and those with developmental differences, use a social story to explain the flow of the morning.
5. Streamline responsibilities. Do beds really have to be made? Are hair bows worth the grief?
6. Resist being your child’s or spouse’s frontal lobe. Help them organize themselves and face the consequences if they do not do so (post-it notes and dry-erase boards help). Each child and parent should have a launching pad by the exit door. All the stuff they need should land there the night before.
7. Carefully evaluate screen time (TV, phones, computers) in the morning. If disengagement from screens results in drama, don’t allow it. If screens are allowed, it should only be after the kids are completely ready to go. If there is still resistance, then no screens the next day.
8. Praise all behavior that is goal directed! Be the model of positivity and lightheartedness. Ignore minor shenanigans and negativity. Be flexible. If your kid got ready independently, do not nitpick if they didn’t do it perfectly.
Your frame of mind is important. Be conscious of your escalating stress. Practice mindfulness and deliberately calm down with breathing, visualization, and even prayer (loudly). Make a commitment to staying calm and know it may take years of practice. Use humor and self-talk. When upset, ask yourself: How big is this problem? Be mindful of all that is right in the moment (everyone is alive and the house in not on fire) then start singing something upbeat like I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Ask everyone in earshot to join in. Refuse to go into the negativity! Smile as you look at your child’s mismatched socks. As a parent of a child who regularly took the walk of tardy shame at school, I can tell you it is not the end of the world; they will still lead meaningful lives. Do your best and make peaceful mornings the goal—allowing time and patience to get there.
By Pat Blackwell, Ph.D.