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October 03rd, 2017

Good Mornings!

Well it’s October already and before we know it half term will be upon us. Where is this term going? One of the new mums in our Clapham group said that at the beginning of the school year she had resolved that they would get to school on time, having had breakfast, with most of the school uniform on, with at least some of the kit they needed, without her yelling at the kids… but that it hadn’t happened yet. Does that resonate with anyone else?

There are so many things that have to be accomplished, with very definite time pressures, which make mornings a real flashpoint and it’s definitely worse if mornings are not your best time. I can do anything late at night …but not early in the morning!  Whether the journey is made on foot, bike, scooter, car or public transport, one step wrong now can put the whole day out for everyone..... 

Well we have some ideas to help with that.

  1. Be a time realist

Rather than a time optimist! Take some time, by yourself, to work out how long it really takes to prepare bowls of cereal, butter slices of toast, pour milk or juices and make a strong cup of tea or coffee…. And mop up a couple of spills, feed the cat, prepare the lunch boxes, pack the reading folder, sign the form trip slip, as well as have a shower, get yourself and them dressed, find your hairbrush, toothbrush, any other brush, and your keys.... 

It can be quite illuminating – my guess of 60 minutes was more than 50% wrong. No wonder I wasn’t making it out in time and felt like a failure every morning. I was trying to achieve the impossible because I hadn’t allowed the right amount of time!

If you have a child under two, three, four, ten, factor in some contingency time for poo-ey nappies or meltdowns just at the point of departure. If you’re early you can always take your time counting the cracks in the pavement or practising tables! 

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare

There is one great thing about the journey to nursery or school - it happens at the same time, in the same way every day for several weeks! When we continue to do the same thing over and over again desperately hoping for a different outcome, it has been called insanity. So if getting ready each morning isn’t working for you, don’t get ready in the morning. Get ready the night before.

With the help of your children, pack school bags, lay out uniform or clothes, empty the dishwasher and lay the breakfast table. You can make it fun – time yourselves, do it to music, treat yourselves afterwards. Get practical – what do you all need in order to do this job well? More shirts? A place to keep shoes? A set of toothbrushes or hairbrushes downstairs? An emergency something somewhere? 

The best advice I ever took and the least popular advice I give is to get up 15-30 minutes earlier than your children so that you can get yourself ready before you need to focus on them. Because you do need to focus on them, but in a positive way, not nagging them. More on that below. 

  1. Who, what, when and where

Do you spend time most mornings ‘discussing’ who sits where in the car, who goes out of the front door first, who carries which bag, who holds whose hands? Ever been forced to run after a child who has simply run or scooted ahead, while leaving another behind? Before it happens again, sit down and start a positive discussion with the children about what needs to happen, and ask them how it could work.

Even young children come up with surprisingly useful, relevant and fun ideas. And they love being asked – it makes them feel more in charge of their own life. And then let them take responsibility for recording the details by writing down/ illustrating the plan – it doesn’t matter what it looks like. It matters that they buy into it.

  1. Focus on the positives

It’s so easy to notice what’s going wrong in the course of the morning preparations. How could you fail to see that your kids are still in their pyjamas let alone beds un-made and teeth un-brushed with 15 minutes to go! Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been pointing out all these deficits to your children. In other words, criticising. Human beings have evolved to notice the negatives –it’s what kept us safe when we needed to pay attention to predators. But now it’s not very useful when we’re trying to motivate our young to get a move on.

What is much more motivating is to notice what they are doing right. Well what are they doing right I hear you ask? Well you might have to look for quite small things to begin with but when you focus on something you get more of it so pointing out small examples of good behaviour leads to bigger examples. One mum said “Stanley (nearly 5) is usually not very keen on getting dressed by himself and needs a few reminders that it is time to stop playing and to get dressed. This week after he put on his shirt by himself, I said : “Stanley, thank you for getting dressed so promptly today while I was helping your younger brother. I know the buttons can be quite tricky but you did them all by yourself and that was a great example for Robert.” He looked at me and said: “Now watch how quickly I can do my shoes”. The next day the whole process took less time and no extra reminders were needed.”

Some families will use a pasta jar to visually record these small acts of good behaviour. One pasta piece (or other token) goes in the jar for every good behaviour (and none come out). We recommend a team jar for all the children to encourage collaboration. If they help each other get ready they can earn extra pastas. Make sure the jar fills up quickly and when it is full do a fun activity together.

  1. Understand your child

You will be so much more effective if your preparations take into account your child’s temperament. If you have a child who is doesn’t transition well from one person, place or activity to another then he will need more time, more preparation and more encouragement than a more flexible child. Wishing he were different won’t make your mornings any easier and will make him feel like a bad person, or at least a difficult one. Your child isn’t a problem, although he may be having a problem. You can help with that.

It will ease your frustrations so much if you realise that your child’s agenda is just as important to him as yours is to you. We can help our children move away from what they want to do and take on our agenda but it will need lots of descriptive praise and some empathy. 

  1. Empathise

Acknowledge how it is for your child if he’s not a morning person/would rather be reading/playing with Lego/staying in bed. Or if he isn’t really into school right now. Just letting your child know that you understand how she feels is often enough for her to let go her resistance.

We’re sure these 6 tips will help your preparations go more smoothly. Enjoy your mornings.

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January 31st, 2016

Managing Morning Mayhem

We’re a few weeks into the Spring term in the UK and although it’s called the Spring term it really feels pretty wintry still. It’s dark when the kids get up in the morning and can be dark when they come home from school too, especially if they have any after school activities. Mornings can be hellish for lots of us. They can be marked by shouting and nagging, threatening and cajoling, sometimes begging. And that’s just us…the adults! Kids have absolutely no sense of urgency and sometimes seem to be moving deliberately slowly. 

The children may seem to be intentionally obstructive, but they’re not –they just have a different agenda. Unlikely as it sometimes seems our children are hard wired to want to please us. It’s an evolutionary thing –their survival depended on it. 

Children are willing to stop doing what they want to do and do what we want/need them to do when:

  1. Parents acknowledge how it is for the child. “You wish you could sort out your football cards now, don’t you? You love those cards. I’ll bet that feels a whole lot more interesting than getting your uniform on.” Only then move on to what needs to be done. “Do you think there’ll be time to play with them once you’re dressed?” Validating their feelings is respectful and allows us to connect with our children in a way that makes communication and cooperation more likely. 
  1. Parents are not nagging, criticising and threatening, which makes kids tune us out. One of the reasons we lose our cool in the mornings and yell is that we feel rushed. Doing more to prepare the night before or getting up a bit earlier to get yourself ready first are the two solutions most often put forward by parents. The other thing that helps us keep calm (the holy grail of parenting) is to remember that your child is not doing what he’s doing to wind you up but that his brain’s frontal cortex is not fully developed yet (and won’t be for years) and that’s the bit that deals with executive functioning like planning and impulse control. The younger she is the harder it is to resist the urge to move off schedule and play with her dolls. Some parents find it’s much easier for kids to get dressed in a low-distraction area like the bathroom. Others keep hairbrushes and toothbrushes downstairs, rather than sending kids back upstairs after they’ve had breakfast. 
  1. The children know that doing what their parent asks gets them positive attention and approval. Give lots of descriptive praise for small steps in the right direction. “You looked at your list. Good strategy –that way I’ll bet you’ll motor through your jobs.” “Hey, you’ve got your pants on already” -much more motivating to a semi-naked child than “oh, what have you been doing? You’ve barely started to get dressed! You’re so slow!” Telling a child that he’s slow almost guarantees that he’ll move at a snail’s pace. This an example of the golem effect which is a psychological phenomenon in which lower expectations placed upon children lead to poorer performance. The opposite is true too –this is called the pygmalion effect. So give your child positive messages about their capacities and watch them live up to that. “I saw that you laid out your uniform last night. That was good planning. It meant you had less to do this morning and now we aren’t so rushed.” It’s always a good idea to point out the positive consequences of a child’s actions.

Try these 3 ideas, and get a good night’s sleep yourself, and we reckon you’ll see a difference in your mornings and you’ll get off to your various activities feeling a whole lot better.

 

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