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Morning meltdowns: time for a rethink?

Mornings can be hellish for parents with young children. Tantrums, lost shoes, last minute costume requests – getting everyone out of the house on time can feel like herding uncooperative cats. There is so much to do and so little time and being late is not an option. And parenting strategies that work at other times of the day can be useless when there is a deadline. So can anything be done to avoid morning meltdowns?!morning meltdowns

Avoid them 100%? No, probably not. Avoid them most of the time? Yes. As long as you are prepared to step back, reflect on what is currently going on and try something different.

Parents, like children, are creatures of habit and we tend to revert to the same behaviour every day (despite lots of evidence telling us it isn’t working). And then resort to nagging, yelling and emotional blackmail when it doesn’t work (again). Even minor misbehaviour is more difficult to handle when you are stressed and irritable and worried about being late.

So if you are feeling the need to rethink your morning routine, here’s a few thoughts to get you started.

What are their priorities?

The key goal of your morning routine is probably to get yourself and everyone else out of the house on time wearing the correct clothing and with all the requisite equipment (preferably in good humour and without morning meltdowns). Do you think that is your child’s priority? Quite possibly not! Children’s priorities tend to be play and/or attention. Which is fine – but not if they meet their goal of getting to play (or watch TV or whatever it is they want to do) before they are ready to go out.

Or if they achieve their attention goal by refusing to put their pants on.

If children meet their priority before you achieve yours then you are going to find it harder to drag them away from what they care about in order to do the things you care about i.e. get dressed, clean teeth and generally be ready on time (which, let’s face it, they may not really care about at all).

Can you do things in a different order?

Which begs the question, if the morning meltdowns are being caused by conflicting priorities, can you change the order of your routine so that you both meet your priorities at the same point – eg the playing or TV or reading a book (whatever it is that meets your child’s goal) happens last, after they have done all the things you need them to do? If your child starts playing [√ his goal] before getting dressed [your goal], where is his motivation to put his pants on?

Try keeping a diary of morning meltdowns for a week or two to see where/when the problems tend to occur.

Can you do things in different rooms?

Sometimes the place you do things can make a difference, for the same reason. If your children’s toys are in their rooms and this is where the morning routine tends to come unstuck, how can you keep them out of their bedrooms until after they have finished getting ready? Could you whisk them into the kitchen for breakfast straightaway and get dressed there too? If cleaning their teeth in the kitchen means they don’t have to go back upstairs and are less likely to get distracted then why not give that a go?

Are you doing too much?

Make a list. Seriously. Of everything you have to do in the mornings. It will probably look something like this:

Make coffee, heat milk, take milk to child, unload dishwasher, shower, choose clothes, get dressed, choose child’s clothes. dress child, brush child’s hair, make breakfast, eat breakfast, feed child, make packed lunches, load dishwasher, supervise teeth-cleaning, pack own bag, pack child’s bag, tidy up toys, collect shoes and coats, put child’s shoes and coat on, load everyone into car

Now go through that list and for each and every task ask yourself: “Can it be done at a different time?” (eg the night before) “Can it be done by someone else?” (eg by your child if you teach them how) and “Does it have to be done so well/at all?” I reckon, if you were really ruthless, your morning task list could be a lot shorter than it currently is. Remember, doing less = less stress = fewer morning meltdowns.

What about an activity schedule?

It’s easy for kids to fall into the trap of needing to be prompted or nagged to complete even simple tasks. And parental nagging easily turns into annoyance when you are being ignored (again). The problem is, this means the kids are getting a lot of attention for delaying and avoidance behaviour that we would rather wasn’t happening at all.

Could you hand over control to your children and then pay attention when they get on with it? Get them to agree a simple morning schedule (get dressed, have breakfast, clean teeth, pack bag, coats and shoes), make sure they can do all the things on that schedule by themselves and then use praise, motivation and incentives to get them through it. Perhaps they can get 10 minutes TV time if they are ready on time? Or a trip to the park on the way home? You could use a reward chart to get them started. That might be enough to establish new habits. (If forgetting equipment is the issues, then use you could use a checklist in a similar way).

Have you asked the children?

Sometimes our children have the best solutions. Why not sit them down at the weekend and say “Our mornings are rubbish. X keeps happening and everyone ends up yelling/unhappy. Who’s got an idea about how we could do things differently?” Even really young children can come up with ideas (see How my pre-schoolers designed a stress-free morning routine) and when children come up with the solution they are a lot less likely to sabotage it.

I hope those ideas will help you think about your mornings in a new way. There is no one ‘right’ way to do the mornings – you’ll need to take into account the layout of your home, the ages of your children, your children’s temperaments and your own schedule. But think it through rationally and try something different. There is a good chance you might get a different result and fewer morning meltdowns!

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