Question: Morning routine at your child’s pace

My 9 year old daughter is not a “morning” person. She moves veeeery sloooow in the mornings and I constantly feel like I am rushing her. She also “forgets” to make her bed quite often. We have a rule that everyone makes their bed in the morning. I don’t think that this is too much to ask (made beds make our tiny house more orderly, and she does not have many chores to do). When I remind my daughter about the things that she did not do in the morning, she gets very quiet and says that all I do is criticize her and I don’t love her. I am very enthusiastic and positive when she does do everything in timely fashion in the mornings. How can I make this better for both of us?

I love that you are even asking this question in the way that you did – wanting life to be better for both of you is a good direction. So often we are focusing on compliance rather than connection and here I think you are trying to do both – thinking well about the needs of parent and child.

I also appreciate that your daughter feels comfortable letting you know how she feels. And that she is in tune with her own natural pace in life – slow is what children often need and what our culture often interrupts.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

1. When we have a chronic problem with child behavior, a good place to start is a conversation. At a time when you are both relaxed, I would bring up the morning routine and invite your daughter to brainstorm any ideas she has about how to make it work better. Clarify that you want her to make her bed and to be ready on time for school and that you want her to do it in ways that work for her. You might be surprised how many creative solutions she comes up with when invited to do so respectfully and at a time when the pressure is NOT on. If she can’t come up with any ideas, invite her to think about it and maybe talk with her friends to get suggestions and plan a specific time to discuss the matter again.

2. To facilitate your daughter’s thinking you might want to invite her to make a list of all the tasks she has to accomplish in the morning. She can brainstorm and you can write or she can talk and write, depending on her preference. After she lists everything she has to get done, you could add whatever she may have forgotten (the bed making might be one she overlooks, but don’t add your thoughts until she is finished brainstorming). After the two of you have the completed list, you can invite her to estimate how much time each task takes. Then you could talk about what kind of getting up time works for her – how long does she need to lie in bed getting ready to be awake. After all that you can add the time together and figure out what time her alarm has to go off. Her engagement in this process may make her more cooperative. 

3. Think about how you greet your daughter in the morning and perhaps talk with her about that. When her alarm goes off, you may want to go in and chat with her for a few minutes or give her a hug or even read a short story together to get the day going positively. I used to go into my daughter’s room talking about the day (that’s what worked for me!). When she was about 7 she said, “Mom, when I wake up in the morning, the first voice I want to hear is my own.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cary, but learned that gentle touch was the best way to connect with her when she woke. Learn about your daughter’s preferences and you may help her deal more effectively with her tendency toward moving slowly – which is a good thing to respect.

4. You mentioned that you note to your daughter all of the tasks she does NOT get done in the morning. And that she doesn’t like that approach. Perhaps you find yourself reminding her along the way of what has to get done – sometimes we call that nagging. Nagging doesn’t help, as you have noticed. Once you get the new plan going, try to reverse that approach and each morning talk about everything that she did accomplish. You noted that you are already praising the positive behavior – keep that up and simply eliminate the nagging. Remember, what you bring attention to, you get more of — noting only what she is getting done will likely lead to her getting more done.

5. If her bed is not made, let her know that her first task when returning from school will be to get her bed made. Snacks, play time, TV time or whatever, will be available as soon as bed is made. Let her know that your preference is that she get it done in the morning. You might want to talk about what that made bed means to you in terms of your emotions and how you see your home, yourself, and your family. And keep in mind that this is your preference and not necessarily connected to optimal outcomes for your child. So keep it in perspective. And, of course, any time the bed does get made, use lots of exuberant, effective praise!

6. In the process of discussing morning routines with your daughter, you might want to also talk together about bed time. For slower moving kids, an earlier bedtime or more relaxed evening routine might help her find a bit more energy in the morning. We all know that some people are more energetic in the morning and some in the evening. Thinking together about her natural rhythms may make life easier for both of you. 

7. And finally if at all possible, plan to have breakfast with your kids. Even if it just means sitting down for coffee while they have their cereal or whatever. Building a few minutes of connecting time into the morning is motivating for most kids to get the jobs done and join together as a family. Daily routines of connection make everything easier.

Thank you for the question. Please let us know how it all works out and what you learned from the process.

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