I have three kids ranging from age 7 to 14. Their schools all start at different times, which makes my mornings very long (sigh). They also have three distinct personalities that come with their own morning challenges. One is sleepy and moody, not a morning person. One is up early but defiant and stubborn, needs to do things when he is ready. And one is punctual and on top of it all, making my job harder because she leaves first and I am not always ready or awake myself which causes her to shout. If there is one thing I hate, it’s shouting. Especially in the morning.
Last year, I made a chart of sorts for my one that just cannot get her body moving in the morning. It wasn’t really a chart as much as a way for her to visually see what she needed to do. This totally worked for us. It helped her understand and grasp the fact that the mornings were hers to own (or hers to ruin). By taking me out of the equation, she actually did everything she needed to do because she was in control. We had this chart up for no more than two weeks and then it wasn’t needed anymore. Why it took me 4 years to figure this out is a mystery.
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Make your own Good Morning chart:
shoe box lid / scissors / piece of cardboard / white glue / markers or paint (we LOVE these chalkboard markers) / photos of your child doing the things that need to get done
I simply cut a shoebox lid in half and glued it to a piece of cardboard. I decorated it for her because she was honestly not into this idea at all. She thought it was “babyish”. But I convinced her by telling her that it would make mommy not have to talk to her at all! She liked that idea. We took photos of her in the midst of her morning tasks. All she had to do was move the photos from one pocket to another. She still is slow to get up, but she knows what to do and that if she doesn’t do it, I will have to speak to her (are you getting the picture that she is not a morning person?).
Here are some tips that might help you with your morning routine…the goal being less shouting, smoother transitions, and an overall kinder & gentler start to the day. These tips hinge on the fact that you wake up before them and get yourself ready, or as ready as you can. It will be virtually impossible to use many of these tools if you are running around like crazy yourself (I know this through experience)!
The slow-moving child: This child is not a morning person. Look out!
1. This may seem obvious, but wake them up way before they need to be ready. I start waking mine one hour before she has to leave. It takes about three or four trips to her room, but by the time she starts moving we still have 40 minutes.
2. Get them a digital clock. This way you can tell them that they have until 7:15 to get themselves up (of course we say 7:15 but we know that they really have until 7:25)
3. Lower your expectations and be patient. This child needs a long transition from sleep to wake. Respecting this will help both of you.
4. Do not rush them. Which goes back to my first point…give them plenty of time to wake.
5. Have them do as much as they can the night before. Usually, if they are not a morning person they are a night owl. Have them lay out their clothes with their choice of shoes, pack their backpacks with their homework, and even put out their own placemat and bowl for their breakfast in the morning. The more they practice this (it may take years, have heart), the more they will begin to own it. Once it’s theirs, they will miraculously do it all without help! Trust me, this does happen…but takes practice and patience.
The worrier child: This child is full of “what-ifs”. What if I did my home work wrong? What if it snows when I’m in school? What if I feel sick?
1. Talk about their tomorrow the night before. Simply say “Let’s talk about your routine tomorrow”. You can start with waking up, all the way to getting on the bus. Let them lead, this way questions will arise that you can work on together. Don’t bring up anything they haven’t mentioned!! You don’t want to add to their anxiety. This exercise is meant to prepare them for tomorrow. You are not only giving them one-on-one time with you, you are getting to know how their mind works and helping them learn that they can solve problems. It’s a nice time to reassure them that you guys are a team.
2. Listen to their needs. They may not always be convenient or plausible, but they are worthy. Sometimes they may want to be driven to school. If this is doable for you, then consider this as an option. You may feel like sometimes you are indulging them, and there certainly is a fine line between coddling and respecting their needs, but the more you let them feel that they have choices in their life, the more their confidence will grow.
3. Model making mistakes. Let them see you mess-up and teach them that you have to sometimes let things go, or find creative solutions. And things will be ok! I make many mistakes. I once forgot to get dressed and drove my son to school. I still had my PJs on and hair twisted on top of my head. I literally did not want to be seen. But instead I just said “whatever! nobody will look anyway”. He thought is was hilarious and we had a private joke about it. My kids say “remember that time…” quite a bit. I am constantly messing up.
4. Don’t use sarcasm, but do use humor. Sarcasm isn’t a good idea with any type of kid, but for the worrier who is already sensitive, it can make them feel worse. Do try and lighten and loosen up their body by cracking jokes and being silly. My son loves when I do stupid voices. Laughing is good medicine!
5. Use large motor muscles. A little expenditure of energy can create a calm feeling. Have them do some jumping jacks, push ups, burpees!
6. Deep breaths (for both of you) is the key to staying calm. And have patience.
The defiant child: This child will engage in power struggles if you let them.
1. Don’t be controlling. If they want to wear their black hoodie for the 4th day in a row, what’s the big deal. If you want to talk to them about how it’s gross and how you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on other clothes, save that talk for the evening. You do want to have a voice and a say in your child’s choice making, but don’t do it in the morning.
2. Be extremely patient. More than any other personality, this one will make you want to scream. How can they possibly decide one minute before the bus comes that they don’t want to wear their coat? Let me say from experience, here is how that will go if you demand they put their coat back on: “Fine, if I wear my coat then I’m not going to school. ” This is not a road you want to take when the bus is waiting at your house. Here’s a better option: “Ok, well put it in your backpack in case you get cold”. I know, it feels like you have lost. But really, you have won. He is on the bus!
3. Their battles are usually never about the thing that they are battling you over. Let them “win” but make sure to revisit the battle later in the day when emotions aren’t so high. As in the case of the coat vs. school fiasco, it turned out that all the boys in his class weren’t wearing coats anymore. Wearing a coat wasn’t “cool”. It took him one week of putting it in his backpack for him to start wearing it on the bus again. He said that he was wearing his coat again because he was being smart. A ha! I won after all.
4. No yelling. Ever. At least not in the morning. But really, try to yell at the defiant child as little as possible. It will only show them that you have lost control of your emotions, and that will be all they need to dig their heels in even deeper.
5. Deep breaths!! And don’t forget to pamper yourself a little. Whether it’s a morning run, or a giant brownie, knowing that a “reward” is waiting for you at the end just makes things better.
The moody child: This one will bite your head off, then give you hugs right after.
1. Plan ahead. Making sure everything is in order the night before will help with the lashing out the next morning.
2. Know their triggers. Sometimes it’s like walking on eggshells with these ones. But over the years you get to know them and what sets them off. Usually, for us, it’s their siblings! Which is a bummer because I can’t get rid of her brother. In our house, the little guy is not allowed to talk to his sister in the morning. Not one word. Of course that doesn’t always happen, so sometimes there is screaming. That’s when you take deep breaths and think of your reward.
3. Get out of their way. Mostly moody people are their own worst enemies. There’s nothing you’ve done, it’s just who they are. As moms, we can only hand them what they need and step out of their path.
4. Don’t take anything personally! And tell them you love them before they slam the door to leave. If yours is like mine, she’ll usually feel bad about her behavior and will run back to give you a hug.
5. Humor doesn’t work. Like I said….just say as little as possible and focus on the beautiful moment after they leave. If you feel like you need to teach them to be nicer and less moody, save that talk for the evening. Remember… our goal is a peaceful morning.
The perfectionist child: This child needs everything to be exactly they way they want it to be. Very little flexibility.
1. Expect crying, and try to not say things like “oh my God, please don’t cry”. This will make them cry more.
2. Make sure they have all of their ducks in a row the night before. Outfit picked (with shoes…shoes are very important because believe me, there is lots of crying in the morning when there are just no shoes to go with the outfit), backpack all set with completed homework, hairstyle picked out. Whatever needs to get done in the morning, do it at night.
3. Show them how you aren’t perfect, but you’re still happy and life is good. This may not be appropriate in the morning rush, but make a point to model un-perfectionist behavior and to have talks when it’s the right moment. In time, they will get to know who they are and start to realize that being average is just fine. Maybe not all the time, but occasionally. What a relief!
4. Button your mouth. Keep all opinions to yourself in the morning. Just tell them they look amazing, give them hugs and kisses.
The older child: This child is in 7th grade or above.
1. Do they really need us anymore? I certainly have many friends who do not get up with their teens. Their kids make their own lunches and see themselves out the door. I think this is awesome!! I’m completely for it if you have the kind of child who loves his/her independence. My oldest is not quite there yet, so I still wake to pack her lunch and give her a kiss goodbye. She kind of still needs that attention.
2. Work towards independence. Again, every child is different. Some are more coachable, some will let you do everything for them until they are 50 years old. But every child needs to leave the nest at 18 so helping them do things for themselves is good parenting. The more confident they feel in taking care of themselves, the better for both of you!
All in all, the most important ingredients to a smooth, yelling free morning are planning and patience. And it goes without saying that nobody is perfect. It’s through trial and many errors (and lots of reading) that I have found what works for my family. We have had completely bad years where I just weep and feel bad every day. That’s when I make changes, try new things, and talk to my kids. It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf! And alway include them in the process. Being open and honest about their strengths and weaknesses helps them discover who they are.
I’m sure you could add to this list so please share your tried & true tips for getting through the morning!!
PS: It’s a tough job, mothering. You are doing great!!