You called your seven-year-old daughter half an hour ago, but she’s still not out of bed. When you do finally manage to cajole her out from under the covers, she glowers at you. If you try to speed her up so she makes the school bus, you get more grumpiness. If her favourite sweater is in the laundry, or her science homework has been misplaced, you can expect a complete meltdown—and a last-minute drive to school. Why do some kids have trouble getting going in the morning, and what can you do to help? Here are some suggestions to take the madness out of the morning from Calgary family educator Catherine Pelly.
Make sure she’s getting enough rest
Kids this age still need a minimum of 10 hours of sleep each night. Look at the family schedule too. “An awful lot of families are overscheduled, with too many evening activities on top of homework,” says Pelly.
Consider your child’s temperament
“Some kids wake up and get going easier than others,” says Pelly. Think about how your child behaves at other times. Are transitions difficult for her? Does it take her awhile to get engaged in a new activity? It may be that she just needs a few extra minutes to lie in bed. An alarm clock with a snooze button set for 10 minutes might help her get up in a better mood.
Rule out anxiety about school
A child who is reluctant to get ready or is easily upset in the morning may be anxious about something at school, so it may help to have a talk with the teacher. Pelly says it’s important to create an environment at home where kids feel comfortable talking about trouble with friends or worries about homework. “Not all kids will tell you what’s going on, especially right after school when they’re feeling overwhelmed by the whole day. Bedtime is often a time when things come out, or when the two of you are snuggling on the couch.”
Try to avoid power struggles
Some kids hate to hurry and if pushed, will push back. “Some kids are just like that,” says Pelly. “The resulting grumpiness is the child’s way of taking back some control of the situation.” With a child who’s not at his best in the morning, it’s important to pick your battles. What he eats for breakfast or wears to school probably isn’t worth a meltdown.
Leave enough time to get ready
“You need to look at the timing of your morning and ask yourself: Is this really doable?” says Pelly, who recommends accommodating a dawdler by providing some extra time in the morning. Try doing more prep at night: lay out clothes, assemble lunches and make a backpack check part of the homework routine.
Some kids are easily sidetracked, says Pelly, and are helped by having a very structured routine and knowing what the rules are. (“You can watch TV or play on the computer after you’ve eaten breakfast and brushed your teeth.”) Other parents have found banning TV in the morning helps.
Be flexible about breakfast
“Some kids aren’t morning eaters,” observes Pelly, “but they still need to have something.” Some kids prefer a breakfast they can drink, like a smoothie. Or you can agree that he has a glass of milk before he leaves the house, and put something extra in his pack to eat on the bus.
Work out a plan together
If mornings aren’t going well in your household, Pelly recommends sitting down with your child and deciding on a routine. “Don’t do it in the morning though!” she says. Make a list of all the things that have to be done; divide the list into things that can be done the night before and those that can be done in the morning. Agree on rules like coming to the breakfast table dressed. Pelly suggests making a poster together, which serves as a visual reminder for kids. Check back after you’ve tried the routine for a few days and make adjustments.
Rethink your bedtime routine
“A good bedtime makes for a better morning. Bedtime should be leisurely enough to include some quiet time to talk about the day that’s been.” If kids go to sleep feeling relaxed, it’s much more likely they’ll wake up feeling ready to face the day to come.