As much as I love the theory and the heart that goes into positive parenting, there was a good long while where I found the idea completely ineffective. Yelling at my kids seemed a strong motivator for those on the receiving end.
Except that it didn’t actually work.
Meaning, all the yelling and threatening didn’t get me super far. Yes, if a particular preschooler planted themselves physically in a corner and defiantly yelled NOO when asked to get dressed, then I followed up with the classic: “then the [insert favorite toy] is being taken away”. Often resulting in more tears, sure, but said child would get dressed. See, after age 2 up to 2 1/2 you cannot – by sheer force – make a child put on clothes and brush teeth. After that age if they aren’t going to do something then they won’t! Quite frankly I don’t want to physically wrestle my child into their T shirt for lots of psychological reasons, but mostly because it’s not a sustainable process. One day – whether they’re 5 or 15 – you simply cannot physically dress a person who isn’t on board with that plan. I needed to motivate those little people to get out the door and yelling? Well, that’s what I knew how to do.
Yet what kind of tone did that set for the day? If you are a working parent (like me) who sends their child to daycare or preschool for a good chunk of the day and the 1hr you had together was spent yelling? Didn’t seem like an economical use of family time. I’m the last person to judge yelling, and will continue to do it as long as fart noises are made at my table (Not allowed!! Come on guys!!) but the time-efficient part of my brain felt as though the crazy angry mornings were a missed opportunity;
We could all have better, more productive days if our mornings were better.
Over time, I’ve made the morning routine better. The yelling doesn’t spill into the driveway (sorry neighbors!). I can say honestly its become completely manageable if not downright enjoyable. Part of what I took from positive parenting is preventative parenting. Meaning, I had to plan ahead and avoid certain road blocks in order to promote mutual respect and collaboration between me and my minions. It started with a better bedtime routine. You can read more about this in my last blog post, but making sure everyone has a solid evening routine lends itself to a happier morning. What I didn’t mention in the last post were specific “hacks” I set up at night to seriously reduce morning tantrums (child and adult!)
– Bedroom water bottles. –
This works because I don’t have children that have ever wet the bed. For those of you with kids still in diapers/pull ups or in big kid underwear, then I’m sure you’ve allowed for the evening sip of water. I take it one step further and give the kids the water bottle that they’re going to use the next day. I know this item won’t leak or spill, so I don’t worry about it being in their room. There’s no excuse for calling out or getting out of bed because of the insatiable thirst that magically develops at bedtime now that they have access to water. And it’s one less item I have to deal with in the morning. This works as early as 18 months because they’re not drinking out of bottles anymore and can safely have water if they need it. For older children, packing their water bottle becomes an easy morning responsibility. I can ask them to put their water bottle in their bag, and at 3 I’ve caught the youngest one doing it without my prompting. For my favorite sippy cups and water bottles (plus the one that has NEVER leaked), check out my resource page.
– Outfit selection. –
Don’t most organized people pick their outfit out the night before? On nights when I know my husband is working late and need to sleep in, then I’ll pick something out so I don’t wake him in the morning. In that sense, I’m accidentally organized. It’s a different story for the kids. Pick out those outfits! And, when they’re old enough to pick out their own clothes, organize their dresser or closet so only the clothes you want them to wear are available! Keep the drawers to a few outfits at a time and put off-season clothes out of sight (or in old diaper boxes in the bottom of their closet, if you’re me…). Bonus points if you ask Siri or Alexa or Google what the weather is tomorrow. It is sooo much easier when they hear from a computer that they can’t wear XYZ because it’s too cold/hot/raining than it is coming from you.
– Lunches + snacks. –
Whether they’re going to daycare, a grandparents’ home, preschool, or an outing with you, pre-pack that stuff. At night. While cleaning up from dinner, because you’re already in the kitchen and no one is so hungry that they insist on eating the snack right now. As early as 18months, setting up meals and snacks for the next day can seriously reduce friction when meal time arrives. Why? Kids feel more secure when they know what’s coming. You as a parent will feel less crazy when asked for snacks and, in a rushed decision, hand over something…less than desirable. When a child is part of the decision making (cheese stick or peach cup. Either/or type choices), they are much more likely to actually consume said snack and is less likely to argue over what you would’ve chosen for them since they had a hand in making that choice. I also think it’s a collaborative moment that allows a child to express an opinion without inviting opposition. Right? Because it’s something that’s going to be offered in the future, and sometimes you get great info on a child’s likes and dislikes when they’re talking about food but not hungry.
– Schedule the Reward –
This is the one area I had the hardest time with. If a toddler woke up early I needed them to stay quiet, then it was nursery songs on YouTube. Or a 4 year old who gets his Leap Pad in the morning for the same reason. While this worked in that moment, it became impossible to actually get ready when it came time to shut those screens down. Our best mornings came down to two rules.
1) Stay in bed/in your room until XYZ time; in our house it is 7am. This was achieved by many days of quietly returning a child to to their room before that time and by having an alarm clock that changed colors at the appointed time! (See my Resource page for the exact clocks we use). Even a large digital clock with the time hand-written next to it can work! For example, a child knows it’s “7:00” when the paper and the time match.
2) I will turn on a cartoon/take out some toys (etc) only after 7am and only after the “morning jobs” are complete. These are small chores. Get dressed. Brush teeth. Comb hair. Make your bed. Bonus if you put your water bottle in your bag. In our house I assist with most of these.
The key here is I’m guiding the morning routine without bribing.
Even if I had to do every one of those jobs “for” them (hello 2 year old), they are doing it with me. Not fighting to get through it. Not distracted by toys or shows. It takes 10min to get through those chores, vs 30min if I had to fight them over it. Then they can watch a show or play with toys because we already decided this was the reward the night before. Try it: have the conversation the night before. There’s a huge difference between a reward and a bribe. One fosters trust and the other breeds future defiance.
☀️ Good luck morning warriors! ☀️