You’re already late for work and your child is sprawled out on the floor, pant-less and howling about his cereal having too many raisins in them.
You’ve tried the “nice guy” approach. You’ve tried the “not-so-nice-guy” approach, but nothing seems to work.
Will you ever get to work on time?
We’ve all been there before. Mornings can be crazy when you’re trying to leave the house at a decent time and also manage the chaos of kids. Usually we want to hurry up to get out the door, but learning to slow down, can help your mornings go more smoothly.
Speeding Up Slowpokes? Don’t Bother.
Why do kids move more slowly the more we tell them to ‘hurry up?’ As it turns out, there isn’t just one reason.
Most children intensely concentrate on just one thing at a time
says Karen Stephens of Illinois State University. What might seem like an act of defiance could actually be the way that your child takes in the world around them.
Creating moments in your morning that allows them to move at their own pace gives children a sense of control, which can make them more receptive to getting ready without screaming like banshees.
You might be tempted to tell them (for the hundredth time, no doubt) to ‘hurry up’ or ‘get going’, but don’t.
After several months of hectic, late-for-work mornings, I started to set my alarm so that I woke up thirty minutes before my son woke up.
Having that extra time made time with my son run more smoothly, because I could focus more fully on his needs. Sometimes, if you adjust your morning routine to make time for a little dawdling things can go a whole lot better.
Stay Organized, Avoid Meltdowns
Part of learning to enjoy yourself amidst the chaos is learning to be more mindful, but mindfulness is a whole lot more than meditation.
Learning to recognize your own thoughts and steer yourself away from meltdown mode means that you’ll be able to help your kids stay calm in stressful situations too.
Having your own morning figured out the night before makes it easier for you have the time and energy to offer help with your child’s routine.
Cleaning and prepping lunches the night before helped to ward off the chaos in my house (most of the time), but other parents have had success with building games that motivate their children to get ready too.
One father invented a game called “the clothes race” for his child where he lined up each item of clothing in a long race-like lineup. In order to win, his son had to put on each item of clothing in a set time limit for a reward of extra colouring time.
Eventually, his son just started “racing” to put his clothes on by himself! Establishing independence takes time and patience, but in the end, it pays off big time.
Research from developmental psychologists suggests that children ‘over-imitate’ their parents because this is part of how humans develop and transmit culture to their offspring. It’s a whole lot more than ‘monkey see, monkey do.’
What this means is that if you freak out on your kids in the morning, this is how your children will learn to behave. Soon, everyone is freaking out.
Sound familiar? Don’t panic. Get organized.
Competent Kids, Calm Mornings
Being organized doesn’t have to be limited to you.
Every kid is different, but one variable that kids tend to have in common is their desire for control over their lives, even if it is just the choice between wearing the red shirt or the blue shirt.
According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, everyone has three basic psychological needs to be satisfied: relatedness, competence and autonomy.
One way to help children achieve some autonomy in their morning is by setting a routine and sticking to it.
This might mean providing your child with verbal cues such as ‘in two minutes it’s time to brush teeth’ or creating a pictographic checklist on the fridge with all of the steps that he or she needs to complete before they leave the house.
Giving your child the ability to check an item off of a list that they have completed themselves creates a sense of pride that will make them want to do it more.
Instead of dragging your child through the morning, try giving them tasks to complete along with some positive reinforcement and soon he or she will be on their way to feeling motivated to move their own butts—quickly!
Finding Mindful Moments
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the reason a child delays in the morning is because he or she doesn’t feel like they have enough time to do what they want.
Maybe your child just started kindergarten and misses the lazy mornings that they spent with you before school. Or maybe, they feel rushed when they get home and don’t have the words to tell you that they want more time to play.
If this is the case, consider building in ‘mindful moments’ into the bookends of your day.
Starting ten or twenty minutes earlier in the morning can offer you the chance to take a few more minutes to sit down and eat breakfast with your child.
If mornings are too stressful, setting aside time at night that is just for playing a game or to pack lunches and talk can take some pressure off of the morning routine.
The funny thing about time is that taking time to play for a few minutes can create the perception that your children are not being rushed out the door, that their needs matter too.
Sometimes, all we need is a moment to catch our breath. Learning to let go and bringing order to otherwise chaotic situations can go a long way to create calm and help mornings feel less frustrating and a little more mindful.
Lauren Mead is a recent graduate of The Humber School for Writers. Previously, she has been a columnist for The Cannon as well as the fiction editor for Carousel Magazine. She is a past recipient of The Milton Acorn Award and she has been published in The Danforth Review,The MacGuffin, Soliloquies, Forest for the Trees and The Artifice.