What makes school mornings so hard? “They’re kind of like a perfect storm,” says David Anderson, PhD, senior director of the ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute.
“You have a number of things that have to get done,” he explains, “and there’s also a time limit.” Add to this the fact that parents sometimes feel their kids don’t appreciate the ticking clock while they’re trying to get everyone to school and work and you’ve got a pressure cooker that can, at its worst, lead to yelling, tears, and forgotten lunches. He says mornings are “definitely tough for most families we talk to,” whether the child has a psychiatric diagnosis or not. Many kids have difficulty with transitions and the morning is all about transitions done under a hard and fast deadline.
While parents can be more flexible about things like bedtime — perhaps they’ll let a child stay up reading until he falls asleep — morning doesn’t afford the same luxury.
If a child leaves the house in the morning without the right shoes, or sports gear, or homework, or without eating breakfast, it can contribute to problems during school.
And if a child ends up being late to school, the parent is often late to work, too.
So what’s a parent to do to both get out the door on time and with as little conflict as possible? Dr. Anderson recommends several things.
First, regardless of a child’s age, think about what can be done the night before such as making lunches, taking showers, organizing backpacks, and laying out clothes. Talk with your kids as to what needs to get done in the morning. “It’s great to have these discussions when cooler heads are prevailing and we can really problem solve about how to get things done in an efficient way,” Dr. Anderson says.
Parents of younger kids need to focus on being clear about what needs to get done, helping them develop this list into good habits. This can be accomplished by noticing when a child is successful, then praising him for those successes. It’s also helpful to break tasks down into very small steps and then noting how well the child is trying to comply or do things independently.
Those with older kids could help them develop an organizational plan—a list they could check back on to make sure each step is completed. “We’re all more effective when we’re very clear with ourselves about what steps we might need to take and realistic about what we actually have time to get done,” he says.