Ask any mother with young kids what time of the day gives her the most stress and you’ll likely hear one of two things — mornings or bedtime. It’s exactly these times of day when you’re in a hurry or trying to stick to a schedule that your kids suddenly decide to direct their attention to towards cleaning their room, reading a book, playing with toys or hauling out their crayons.
If your kids are anything like mine they’ll come up with a million creative excuses to stall, delay or just ignore doing what you’ve asked. My mornings often felt like they devolved into chaos as I corralled my five year old and tried to convince him that he needs to brush his teeth at night AND in the morning. His cheeky response was that he’s not old enough yet — he’ll try it when he turns six.
In order to save my own sanity and that of my husband, I did some research and put together three easy hacks that have turned our mornings around. These are based on a lot of parenting research and best-practice, but skip on all the details and just focus on the basics. Best of all these are easy to implement and based on my experience they actually work.
Build A Routine And Stick With It
Both adults and kids perform better socially, emotionally and cognitively when they have an established routine. This lets our brains go on to auto pilot mode and complete tasks without the thought of what might come next. We know what to expect and what the outcome will be. It provides us with structure and continuity.
Before putting together a routine for our family my son would get up, watch a bit of television, play around with his breakfast and then argue about getting dressed. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
We’ve since instituted a morning routing that sees him:
- Get dressed
- Decide what he wants for breakfast
- Eat said breakfast
- Watch television if there’s time
- Brush teeth
- Head out the door with dad
We follow this routine every weekday, and each step is followed in the order I’ve described. Many times my son will try and circumvent getting dressed before deciding on breakfast, or think that he can watch TV while lounging in his pajamas. I’m firm and stick to the routine, and gently remind him that these are the expectations in our house.
This usually results in an “oh great” or “that’s so boring”, but he seldom pushes back enough to derail things. We’ve been following this routine for about six months now and it’s met with great success.
Give Your Kids Choices
Involve your kids in making decisions about what to wear, what to eat and other morning tasks that give them a sense of independence and ownership over their time.
With that said, make sure that you limit their choices and that what you present as options are ultimately going to guide them towards your end goal.
Say for example that getting your kid dressed is something akin to steer wrestling or a full on contact sport. They fight you every step of the way, argue over what pants to wear, and run back and forth down the hall playing a inopportune game of tag.
Involve them in the process by clearly explaining that it’s time to get dressed before doing anything else (and this is where that morning routine can help!). Pick out two shirts and two pairs of pants that they can select from that day and don’t provide other options. Offering too many selections can be overwhelming and work against you.
The magic happens when kids feel that they can have a say in what’s happening, and as a result they’re much more likely to cooperate when they feel like they have some control. No one likes to be dictated to, and your child is no different.
The same process applies to other parts of your morning. When getting breakfast ready ask if that want Cheerios or Shreddies? Blueberry yogurt or strawberry yogurt? Toast or regular bread with peanut butter? Limit the amount of time they have to choose and redirect their focus back to the question at hand if they get distracted.
Set A Role And Delegate Responsibilities
Children want to feel like they matter and are part of your family — they’re looking for affirmation that they’re important and belong. Often a lot of the misbehavior that we see when we’re trying to get out the door and make it to work on time is an attempt on their part to get the attention that they’re after.
This can be managed preemptively by giving your kid a role and set of responsibilities that they undertake each morning. By providing positive feedback when they follow through on their tasks, this reduces their need to seek attention because they’ve already had a few doses of it from mom and dad.
This doesn’t have to be complicated or arduous stuff that adds to an already busy morning. Simple things like making sure that their backpack is ready for the day, or turning off all the lights in the house before you make your exit are easy to implement. This shifts the onus on you to do everything and helps kids see that they have a role to play.
When your kids follow through with their responsibilities, make sure that you provide them with positive feedback and let them know how their contribution helps the family. For example, let them know how much you appreciate it when they pack their bag because it makes your day easier and is one less thing to remember. Or that turning off the lights not only helps save energy and money, but it helps the earth — and I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t love helping mother earth.
Mornings with young children don’t have to be a nightmare that leaves you exhausted and ready for a nap before 9am. Try these three hacks to make your mornings better and see the difference in not only your mood but that of your kids.