Mornings in our house used to be, for lack of a better term, hell. From the time my 7-year-old woke up until she went out the door with her backpack banging against her bottom 40 minutes later, I nagged. And nagged. There were often tears. And, judging by the parents running late and frazzled to the schoolyard, we were not alone. What seemed to me to be one big sweep of action -- getting ready for school -- was a confusing, overwhelming jumble of tasks for my daughter.
“It’s really important that we understand how our kids receive information,” says Victoria Kindle Hodson, MA, co-author of Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict Into Cooperation. “If we can get on their wavelength, and start working with them, then they can start working with us.”
Auditory Learners? Not
Peace returned to our morning routine the day after my husband made a spreadsheet of the 22 -- yes, 22! -- separate tasks my daughter must accomplish before she leaves for school. Brushing her hair, putting on sunscreen, eating breakfast, feeding the cats: You know the drill.
“Most young children,” says Hodson, “are not auditory learners. About 20% can get their information that way, but the rest are just dangling there, wondering what you said.”
Laid out in a way my daughter could see and control, the process of getting ready for school was no longer daunting and, overnight, she became responsible for her own mornings. Empowered and happy, she carefully marked off the boxes on her list. (Every child is different: My 6-year-old son couldn’t care less about a checklist, but does require, before he’s ready to head off to school, a morning cuddle and a bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and milk.)
Try a little respect. Parents tend to think that tests of will -- head-to-head battles for control over things like when to get out of bed or what to wear -- are an unavoidable part of child raising. Not so, says Sura Hart, who teaches parenting workshops across the country and is co-author with Hodson of Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids. “Everyone wants to live in a respectful environment, and parents can create it in very small shifts.”
It all starts, says Hart, with building relationships based on trust instead of fear. “With kids, even young kids, your question should be, ‘How do we work this out for everyone?’ -- sort of a simplified win-win. And when kids see that their needs matter, then they relax and you can negotiate.”
Working together, Hart says, parents and children can come up with solutions: whether it’s one more minute in bed or wearing the favorite pink pants on alternate days. The key is respecting yourself, your differences, and your efforts. As Hartman says, “Our differences can be a source of struggle -- or not.”
Morning routine tips
Still, some age-old, get-out-the-door tips still apply -- especially the “plan ahead” one.
A school-day morning actually starts the night before. Being able to predict and understand what’s coming up helps children feel in control. “Lay out clothes, plan what you’re having for breakfast,” Hodson says. “Talk through anything that has been a struggle in the past.”
And remember that whatever way you handle the morning routine, it’s setting a model for your children. “At the core of all of this is: What our kids see us doing with them is what they’re going to do with their own lives -- we’re modeling,” says Hodson. “Parents must be willing to reflect on their behavior and adapt. That’s the key to finding a respectful way to parent.”