Enhancing children's lives through parent and teacher education.

Engaging Cooperation During The Morning Routing

How can I get my two year old to cooperate in the morning? Does this differ for a 7 year old?

Most parents approach morning chaos with the thought "How can I make this easier for me?" I've found, however, that it's often more effective to ask "How can I make this easier for my child?"

Mornings can be difficult for adults and children alike. Children often feel confused and frustrated by having to adhere to a time schedule that they don't understand or value. Because their priorities are different from those of an adult, it's difficult for them to comprehend the necessity of hurrying, the value of getting places on time, the frustration that we experience when the clock says 8:05 and we have to be somewhere by 8:15. Children live in the moment. They are far more interested in playing here and now than going to preschool, school, or even to a playdate. If we want mornings to be easier, we have to focus on how to make it easier for our children, and what are the things which will serve to motivate them.

* Create a routine. Many times the difficulties encountered during the morning rush are solved by simply adopting a "work first, play later" philosophy. When we order our children's morning so that they get dressed first, then eat breakfast, then brush their teeth and get their backpack ready for school, and follow all that "work" with a video, reading or playing with their toys we help motivate them to accomplish these things without dawdling. Following the same order consistently also helps children of all ages to know what to expect. When children know what to expect, they're less likely to test the limits (of both the rules and our patience!)

* Make it fun. Why we expect children to cheerfully and quickly get ready in the morning when all those attractive toys are begging to be played with defies logic. Children need a sense of playfulness and humor in order to accomplish life's dreary responsibilities. The truth is that play enriches everyone's lives, and turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. When children (and adults too!) experience a sense of playfulness, they're less likely to resist responsibility. Make getting dressed a game by timing her and seeing if she can beat yesterday's time, race your child to put their school things by the door, sing a silly song about brushing teeth ... in short, anything you can think of that will lighten the mood and make the routine more enjoyable is bound to help.

* Give the child some power by asking for help or giving choices.

For young children, choices work well during the morning routine. "Would you like to wear the blue sweater or the green sweater?" helps focus the child and gives him a sense of control in a situation where they normally feel powerless. Likewise, "Would you like to put your coat on yourself, or should I help you," sometimes gets them out the door with the coat actually on. Should your child respond with "I don't want to put my coat on," you can always say "If you can't choose, I'll choose for you, and I'll choose to help you with the coat." Most children would rather put it on themselves, but if your child continues to resist, you at least have the option of saying "I see you've chosen to have me put the coat on you. Maybe next time you'll choose to do it yourself."

Older children also need to feel a sense of control, especially during transitions (morning and bedtime are good examples). Sitting down with a school age child, for example and asking him to help come up with solutions for making the morning routine easier often results in some surprising remedies. One seven year old boy decided that they should make a list of the things that had to be accomplished in the morning. When they'd completed the list, he drew boxes next to each item so that in the morning he could check off each task as it was accomplished. He also decided that it might be easier if some of the things were done the night before. For several weeks he followed the list, checking off items each day. Each week, he and his mother sat down at the end of the week, and together they evaluated how it was going. Soon, the list became unnecessary as the routine took over. Both mother and son knew what had to be accomplished each morning and getting out of the house was no longer a struggle.