NOTE: This piece was originally written for the DMoms Magazine Blog 10/12
Have you ever felt as if the mornings drag on, everything is a struggle, and no matter how hard you try you just can’t get out the door without feeling stressed, overwhelmed and about to have a nervous breakdown and all before 9 a.m.? Rest assured that you are not alone. Phew! Many moms complain that the mornings are a struggle and of course we would all like to start our days with more peace. So let’s look at some things we can do about it...
5 ways to transform your morning experience with your children:
Create a routine: Many moms tell me that getting as much as they can ready the night before makes a big difference for them in the morning and older children can help with tasks such as making lunches, getting their back packs ready, or picking out an outfit for the next day. Additionally, a morning routine helps everyone stay on track. Just as many babies thrive from having that eat/sleep schedule, so do older children (and adults) thrive from knowing what to expect next. Create a morning routine that works for you and your child and stay consistent! Inconsistency is stressful for everyone. The more consistency, the more feelings of safety, the fewer struggles. (But not always of course! Remember that as moms we must always be adaptable too!)
Wake up the brain: You know that feeling you have after a great morning workout when you feel energized and excited to take on the day? Similarly, we can create a home environment that supports such experiences for our kids and thus makes mornings more enjoyable for everyone. Morning can be a great time for both play and connection! Build in time for children to explore, to engage in pretend play, to engage in meaningful interactions with you through play, reading, or just talking over breakfast. Try a routine that involves movement. Young brains need bodies that move to help reduce stress and impulsivity and be able to make better choices. Turn off the TV (and other screens), for even if it is just on in the background it is distracting to children and adults alike from fully engaging in other activities and having more meaningful interactions with one another.
Let them make choices you can live with: It’s amazing how quickly our little babies become their own little people – fully equipped with their own personalities, tastes and even fashion sense! I never thought that at 3 years old my son, a boy, would ever care what he wore and was sure I had a few more years of dressing him in the perfect little outfits I had picked out! Alas, I’ve had to give up some control, but no one ever died from going to school in mismatched clothes, princess dresses (my friends’ girls), or even pajamas! As moms, we need to pick our battles with our children and even share some of our control with them – just give some of it up! Make a list of possible choices you can give to your children, of all ages, but all of which you can live with of course! Do you want to wear this shirt or pick out another? Do you want to put the toys away now or get dressed first? Do you want to go to school with that messy hair or go brush your hair now? We all react more favorably to choices than to being told what to do. Try it out!
Amplify the positive: It is a paradoxical concept at first, but what we focus on grows, so if we amplify what is good and working rather than what is not, we will start to see more of that which we wish for. Just this morning as I was getting ready to argue with my three year old about putting his toys away before school I remembered this concept and said: “I know you’re going to help me put the trains away like you did yesterday, you do it so well, come show me!” Immediately this shifts his reaction from fighting against me to assert his independence, which is what toddlers naturally do, to wanting to show me something he is good at or wanting to get more of my praise! Of course it doesn’t always work, but if you stay calm, it typically reduces the struggle. No one wants to be critiqued all the time, but we all like to hear compliments! So point out all the good they do at every opportunity you get and you will start to see more of it!
Check yourself: Remember when your child was an infant and you were told that he/she can sense your emotions and will react to your stress? Kids too are very intuitive and of course as they get older they learn by example so we want to model our best selves to them as much as possible. Therefore, we must first look within and do a quick scan of our own emotions and our own level of reactivity. Am I calm, peaceful and cheerful in the morning? If not, what do I need to do to take care of myself? Maybe this means getting up a few minutes earlier to have that cup of coffee before the kids wake up, or that long shower, or five minutes of deep breathing or a yoga series to wake up the body. Find out what your thing is and gift yourself in the morning so that you can model to your children that “morning person” you wish to see in them.
*Please note that I am by no means the perfect parent or the expert parent. I bring expertise from my training and education, but as a mom, I too am learning as I go. We are all experts with our own children and all on an ongoing journey of parenting. I do not always implement these tools (above) with my own son but when I slow down enough to remember to use them – they almost always make a difference for me in my experience of parenting so that I have less nervous breakdown moments. J Hope they make a difference for you too! Let me know!