On the boys’ last report card, we were reminded of our family’s dismal record at getting to school on time.
After a humiliating recent meeting with the school principal, who wanted to discuss strategies for combating lateness, we decided that come hell or high water, we’d start getting them there before the first bell. Except for one morning when we were truly late for reasons beyond our control (can you say TTC breakdown?) we’ve been pretty good at being on time. But mornings in our house are, in a word, stressful. Too much yelling! Cajoling! Threats!
And that’s just what the kids say to each other.
We’re looking for a better way. There’s no worse start to the day than one where everyone feels pushed around (children AND adults!) and grumpy because of it. In our defence, we have a morning plan and a system which has the potential to work well. We’re rarely held up by something so simple as a missed trip permission form or a lack of recess snacks. We have that all figured out. We’re late usually for one of two reasons:
(a) someone’s slow to move, easily distracted from the task of getting ready, and just plain uncooperative; or
(b) something big pops up and needs to be tended to, like the need to use the washroom. Or test anxiety. Or an existential crisis.
Usually, it’s the former that trips us up, though you’d be surprised how often it’s column (b).
Enter Alyson Shafer’s book, Ain’t Misbehavin’. She suggests that morning dawdling is just a form of passive power struggle. The more parents dig in our heels, the more kids resist, so we all need to stop digging. She provides a three step plan and some quick hints on how to put that plan into practice. Unlike some of the other strategies, this one’s meant to be implemented over the course of a week or so, which would have been fine, except the primary dawdler of the family was home sick all week, which meant our morning routine this week was totally different than usual. So using Shafer’s plan, I’ve been looking at how we can make our current routine less stressful:
- step one: make a morning plan WITH the kids.
Shafer suggests holding a family meeting to discuss that mornings are not working well, and to ask for input as to how mornings can be better. We’ve done that. And re-done it. I don’t think this is our problem. The boys understand that it’s their responsibility to get themselves ready in the morning. Ask them, and they will tell you the order that things are to be accomplished in the morning, based on a list they themselves made. It’s just that somewhere between step two (get dressed) and step four (brush teeth) is a gaping chasm of distractabilty into which both of them fall on a regular basis.
- step two: Take Time for Training (TTFT).
Allowing children to do those things they can do for themselves leads to autonomy and mastery. Though she doesn’t specifically say it, consistent with Adler philosophy, I’m assuming that taking a hands-off approach respects the child’s authority to control their own actions. . Here, we could probably make some progress. The eldest is quite capable of getting himself dressed, making his breakfast, brushing his teeth and, assuming he doesn’t pick a fight with the youngest somewhere along the way, is pretty quick about it. The youngest? Not so much. He knows what to do, but I’m convinced he just. Chooses. Not. To. (Hmm. Power struggle, anyone?) So we nag and plead, until out of frustration we end up doing everything from putting toothpaste on his toothbrush to pouring his milk. I think we can change that.
- step three: Plan to be late.
Oh oh. Since it takes a while to get a plan underway, she suggest building in a buffer to allow for the inevitable bumps along the road to a new way of doing things. Except, I think we’ve exhausted all our good will. There’s no leeway on time, so I guess this means we’re getting up even earlier to make this come to pass.
With this plan in mind, Shafer reminds us that to be successful, we need to resist “urging, insisting and micromanaging”. Instead, she suggests that we go about our own business, stepping in to offer help when and where it is needed, holding the child accountable for getting their own stuff done. If they’re flailing around on the floor, assume they don’t need your help and get on with your own routine. This works apparently for things like brushing teeth and getting dressed. Doing less, and doing it without anger or manipulation, is meant to encourage confidence and self-autonomy in your child.
So that’s the plan. And other than the fact that I think we do an awful lot of nagging, and we truly are lousy when it comes to doing things for the youngest, I’m not sure that we haven’t implemented this plan on our own in the past. So I’m thinking of specific situations where we can apply her principles:
- breakfast. I’m a stickler for breakfast, and happen to have two children who (like their mother) lose all ability to reason (read also: become more stubborn and less likely to be cooperative) when they’re hungry. Success in the morning hinges on getting breakfast in to bellies, stat. But it takes forever for them from upstairs to the kitchen. Shafer suggests that we set out breakfast, call “breakfast time!” and go about eating our own. A parent’s job is to put food on the table; it’s a child’s job to eat it. If need be, set a timer, and clear away breakfast when time’s up. Hunger will ultimately win out over whatever else is motivating them to dawdle. As Shafer says “You have to prove you’re not invested in what choices or decisions they make for themselves regarding breakfast”. While I like this idea in theory, I’m dreading it in practice. One missed breakfast won’t hurt either of them, but did I ever tell you about the time in kindergarten that Daniel ended up in the principal’s office sobbing because he was just so hungry? And this was AFTER he ate breakfast…
- the getting on of coats. I’m convinced there’s a black hole in our front hall which sucks up all available extra time in the morning. Shafer’s advice is simple: once YOUR coat is on, announce that you’re ready to go. Then go. Get in the car. Wait outside. Keep moving without fighting. It may take them some time, but ultimately they’ll come along. By leaving the scene, you’re no longer providing them with an audience for whatever display of stubbornness they’re intent on demonstrating.
Right. I tried this once, inadvertently. I went out to shovel snow after asking them to get their coats on and meet me outside. Ten minutes later I found them having a light-sabre duel on the living room couch.
Needless to say, we were late that day.
So will it work? I think the key is recognizing that children have as much responsibility as do adults in getting themselves ready. If I’m taking anything from this, it’s the idea that by NOT micromanaging, we might have better success than we’re having now. And if we can do that without anger or validating the power struggle, we’ll be better off. I’ll try it, and we’ll see.
In the meantime, I’ve got to get to bed. I need to be up early.
If you would like the chance to win a copy of the book, please leave us a comment any day this week letting us know. The competition ends at midnight on Friday, April 22. We will draw for and announce the winner on Saturday, April 23, and Mom Central will mail out a copy of the book to the winner after April 30th.
Disclosure – We are participating in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing. We received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for our participation. The opinions on this blog are our own.