Hectic, stressful mornings are a common complaint among families with young children. Several people trying to get up, washed, fed, dressed and out the door in less than an hour. It can feel almost impossible to get through the mornings without an outburst from a child or a parent. Many parents feel shame, guilt and disappointment that they need to repeat themselves or even yell to keep their child focused on the morning routine and out the door in time for work and school. The preschool years can be particularly difficult because this is the first time that your child has had to maintain a morning schedule and may resist giving up a slower paced start to the day. Schedules can feel arbitrary and difficult to understand for a toddler or preschooler, and parents can feel frustrated and angry when their child does not follow through with the tasks at hand. It is helpful to understand some of the factors that contribute to the hectic start to the day so that your family can make changes that will allow for a more peaceful morning.
Most often, the end of a busy morning routine is met with a “goodbye” and separation between parents and children. This can be difficult for a preschooler who is just settling into school and learning to separate from Mommy and Daddy. Your child may not feel the same rush to get to school on time as you do because she is not feeling ready to say goodbye. This is a troublesome feeling to put into words for a young child or they may not even realize that they are feeling this. Instead, they will resist the morning routine and delay the goodbye as a way of communicating or acting out their struggle. It is helpful for parents to put the behaviors and feelings into words and reassure their preschooler that they understand and can help. It can be as simple as saying, “Mornings can be really tricky because there is a lot to do before we have to say goodbye at school and saying goodbye is still hard when we get there. Remember, I can read a book with you before you go into the classroom and I will be back to pick you up when school is finished. So let’s get those shoes on so we have time for that book”.
It is also challenging to balance your morning schedule and needs with the needs of your children. Some parents have to check their emails or messages to help organize their day, but their child requires their full attention. Others want their morning coffee, alone time or even a shower before they can attend to their child’s needs. This can be impossible to do if you are all waking up at the same time. Many parents find it extremely helpful to wake up before their child so that they can have the much needed time to themselves to start the day. This can be achieved by setting your alarm 20-30 minutes before your child’s wake-up time, allowing you to turn on your coffee maker, check your messages and jump in the shower before you have to make breakfast, give repeated reminders about teeth brushing, and help with shoelaces.
Families can also strategize together about how to make mornings easier. Ask your preschooler what she thinks about the morning…”Wow Missy, this was a really hard morning! You really didn’t want to get dressed and Mommy yelled too much. What do you think we could do so that tomorrow is not so rushed and hard”. The answer will probably not be a fully developed plan, but even short responses such as, “I don’t like to wear tights to school” can be very helpful. Planning together gives your child an active role in the morning and also some accountability.
These are just a few ideas that can help families establish more manageable and successful morning routines. UWS Parenting Support works with families who need more specific and individualized guidance to restructure their mornings and help their child calmly and happily start their day. Please call or email to learn more or schedule an appointment.