Rhythm and Routines

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

School has started and the excitement of the first week has worn off. Do you find yourself nagging in the morning? Wondering if your student will ever to be able to make it out the door with some drama or to get a pair of shoes on (get dressed, eat breakfast) quickly? There are a couple of practices that make mornings easier for many families.

It is helpful to remember that the world looks different through your student’s eyes. They may or may not like school – but the process of getting there also involves leaving you, leaving home – and is quite a transition. It is often hard to find a comfortable pace for that transition.

Ask for your student’s help. “I’m noticing that in the morning there always seems to be a last minute rush. By the time you make it out the door, I’m nagging you and we are both stressed. Can we figure something out so that we have more time together and you make it out the door without the stress?” Brainstorm a list of things that would help both of you in the morning. That might include you getting up earlier so that you have a few moments of undivided time with your child(ren).

Get things ready the night before. Having children pick out their clothes, make their lunches and put their backpacks by the door the night before school greatly reduces stress in the morning. Yes, it makes the evening routine a little bit longer – but with practice it can go quite quickly. It teaches kids to think ahead and plan a bit which is a valuable life skill.

Build a routine chart together. With your student work backwards and make a list of all of the things that need to happen for a successful morning “launch.” On a non-school day take pictures of him doing each step. This might include the alarm going off, waking up, getting dressed, etc. With your child make a poster using the pictures you have taken in an order that works for both of you. If you have more than one child, make one for each.

Let the routine be the boss. In the morning let the routine chart be the boss. For example, you ask, “What is next on your chart?” instead of saying, “It is time for breakfast.”

Avoid “special service.” Are you doing things for your child that she could do for herself? Are you tying your 7 year-old’s shoes? Making her bed? Picking out clothes for your kindergartner? Getting her dressed? Time to fire yourself from that job. Many parents are anxious that their child simply cannot manage these tasks. That of course invites the child to also believe that he or she is not competent. If you are moving toward doing less here are some basic steps.
• Let your child know that you know that she is capable and that you won’t be dressing her (tying her shoes, picking out clothes) any longer.
• You can talk about what she needs to practice to have confidence that she can do it herself.
• Become incompetent at the task. If she wants you to get her dressed, for example, put the clothes on all the wrong places. (If this is done with love and humor it can be quite fun.)
• Allow for mistakes. If she goes off to school with laces tucked in instead of tied it won’t be the end of the world.

The sense of competence and confidence that your child will gain from learning that he or she is capable is worth the effort.

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