Why won’t my child cooperate in the mornings?

“If you don’t hurry up you’ll be late for school!” Parents say this over and over while they hurriedly prepare breakfast, pack lunches, and get the family ready for the morning commute to day care, school, or work. In the midst of all this activity, six- to nine-year-old dawdle along, seemingly unaware of the frustration they cause. It can seem to parents that nothing keeps their children from procrastinating—not logical arguments, threats, rewards, or punishments.

One seven-year-old, proud of having gotten up half an hour early on a school morning, used all her time to watch TV instead of getting ready. An eight-year-old who dressed himself after much prodding asked, “Now what do I do?” as if he’d never been told to brush his teeth and pack up his school books. Many children need constant reminders: “Comb your hair.” “Put on your shoes.” “Stop playing and come down for breakfast.”

Most young children procrastinate in the mornings because they aren’t interested in rushing off to school. Getting ready is something they have to do, but it’s not a priority. They would much rather get involved in an interesting activity such as playing, drawing, reading, using the computer, or watching TV. In addition, they have only a loose sense of time. Ten minutes can feel like plenty of time to finish playing and get dressed. Its parents, not children, who think time and morning routines, are important.

Some kids are overwhelmed by the process of preparing for school. Instead of struggling to keep track of the things they must do, they avoid getting ready in the morning altogether. Other children, like some adults, just aren’t “morning” people and have a hard time waking up early. In some families, mornings are so stressful that children deal with the tension by pushing aside demands and distracting themselves in play.

Here are some strategies to try if you, like so many parents, have a child who procrastinates. Try waking yourself up fifteen to twenty minutes earlier so your preparations won’t be as hurried. With a little more time in the morning, you can relax, share a cup of cocoa with your child, talk during breakfast, may be take a short walk. Even five minutes of relaxed time together can make the morning smoother.

You also can wake your child up earlier so he has time to play before getting ready. If he seems tired in the morning, a shower may help wake him up. Try setting an earlier bedtime. This helps some children, although others don’t wake up well no matter how much sleep they’ve had.

You might find mornings more peaceful if you change the timing of your chores. Make lunches, lay out clothes, and help your child pack up his homework in the evening so you’ll have more free time before school.

Prepare a chart for him listing the things he should do to get ready, and use a timer to let him know when to begin. You can try a system of checks and rewards as motivators.

Perhaps he doesn’t clearly know what you expect from him. Calmly but firmly tell him what his morning responsibilities are. At a time when you’re not angry, ask him for suggestions: “What would help you get ready?” Explain the consequences of dawdling: “If you aren’t outside in time, you’ll miss the school bus.” “If you don’t come downstairs early enough, you won’t have time for pancakes.”

What works for one family or child may not work for another. You may have tried many techniques and still find your mornings difficult. In that case, changing your attitude toward your child may help some. Instead of expecting him to take care of himself completely, accept that you’ll have to help him along. It may he faster and more peaceful for you to comb his hair than to yell, “Can’t you remember anything? I told you to comb your hair!” Identify the tasks he has most trouble with and either offer help, do them for him, or keep calmly reminding him. If you change your tone, he may actually cooperate more because he wants to please you.

As your child approaches nine, you’ll see less procrastination in the mornings. He’ll be better able to handle multiple tasks in a short time and be more responsible. He’ll also care a little more about his appearance so he’ll put more effort into getting ready for school.

Picture credit: Google