In some families, the kids are up at the crack of dawn, everybody has a leisurely breakfast together, and, right on time, they cheerily march out the door to work and to school. In far more families, days begin with the jangle of alarm clocks, clattering dishes, shouts (“Isabel, out of bed now!” and “If you aren't at the table by the count of three, young man!”), fights over the bathroom (“Mo-om! Jamie's been in there for 15 minutes and I've really gotta go!”), hair brushing, lunch making, writing excuse notes, searching for lost homework and clean clothes. There's always something forgotten, something late, somebody getting uptight. There are the screamers, grumpy but operating at full speed, and the mopers, sullenly staring at a coagulating egg while the clock ticks and ticks. Tears. Stress. Why are mornings so bad, and what can you do to make them better?
Whether your problem is with the stressed out, hyper child bouncing off the walls or the slug-a-bed moving in slow motion, if there's this much chaos, the whole family has a problem.
When Mornings Are Miserable
Some kids just can't get up in the morning. Some don't like to be rushed. Some don't function well when they first wake up. Some are tired from not getting enough sleep. Moody mornings are closely related to bedtime battles (we'll get there in a moment). Assess your child's natural rhythms (they're part of her temperament), and your own. Some people are morning doves, some are night owls. In our family, I wake fairly easily, and my idea of a good time is getting into a cozy bed at 10 p.m. Bill and Annie, on the other hand, can party the night away. I like the early morning hours. Bill only wants to see dawn from the wrong side.
Tales from the Parent Zone
Cool it with the judgments, forget all the old sayings. “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” made sense when we all were farmers and needed to get up and milk cows. Ditto “The early bird gets the worm.” (“Who wants a worm?” groans my husband the night owl as he buries his head deeper into the soft, warm bedcovers.) In these days (and nights) of overcrowding, electricity, and work that can be done round the clock, it makes sense that some of us are early birds, and some are nocturnal creatures.
Here are some thoughts and suggestions for changing your morning moods:
- If you have kids who have trouble getting up in the morning, can you change your schedules? Sounds radical, but why not? Some of us are locked into commutes and early morning school starts—others have more flexibility, and should think about taking advantage of it. When I was in high school, I had a choice of what time to begin school. Being a morning dove who wanted out early, I often took a preperiod PE class at 7. The idea of such would send shudders of horror down the spine of my slug-a-bed—oops, I mean my work-the-night-away—husband.
- Consider your own morning modeling. Are you a Night of the Living Dead zombie, arms outstretched, staggering into the kitchen moaning, “Cah-ffee, cah-ffee,” or are you Hyper Harriet stressed about being late to work again! even though the last time you were late was five years ago? Work a little on your own morning attitude. Your child will learn that no matter how crummy you feel, it's important to be civil.
Tales from the Parent Zone
I know a couple who almost broke up because he bounded out of bed every day with a cheery “Good morning!” and she needed at least a half an hour—and a lot of coffee—to feel human.
- In Japan, where many people live crowded together in small spaces with thin walls, the tradition is to “not see” people until they're dressed, washed, and ready for the day. You might try it; it works for some families.
- Watch your pace. A child who feels rushed may resist by getting slower, and sl-o-w-e-r. Nagging, moaning, and screaming might get her out the door now, but tomorrow morning, it'll be the same thing. Allow more time. Get her up earlier, or set an alarm clock of her own for 10 or 20 minutes earlier. This is counter-intuitive, but sometimes works, as she can go more at her speed, or play a little in her room, and slowly get used to being awake.
- If you're the slug-a-bed and she's a crack-o'-dawn type of kid, let her get up—and be your alarm clock at an established time. Maybe she can participate by helping with family breakfasts and lunches!
- Get it done the night before. Organize the backpacks, jackets, homework, sports supplies, and put them near the door or, better, in the car. Pack lunch, choose clothes. Some parents even let their kids sleep in their (comfortable!) clothes and roll right out of bed into the car (breakfast in a plastic bag on the way). Whatever works for you.
- Get into a rhythm and routine so your child (and you!) can operate on cruise control without having to think. (Thinking in the morning can be quite a challenge.)
- If your child is having a particularly difficult period in the morning, determine if life at school or in her social life is okay. If you are facing a hard day, you don't want to get up either!
- When feasible, set consequences. (“If you're late, you need to walk” or, perhaps more effective, “Since you're so tired in the morning, you need an earlier bedtime for now.”)
- No matter how well your family has done that morning, always kiss or hug your child good-bye.
- Don't forget the positive reinforcement! When your kid's had a better morning, mention it! Bring it up that evening!