School Mornings Without the Stress
Getting everyone out the door in the morning can be a challenge for lots of families all over the world. For kids with mental health or learning difficulties, it can be even harder. Kids with ADHD or behavior issues may have trouble following instructions or focusing on what needs to get done. Kids with anxiety or depression may have a hard time getting out of bed or managing their worries about school. And for children on the autism spectrum, small changes in routine can lead to conflict.
Whether or not your child has a mental health diagnosis, here are some ways to make mornings easier and avoid conflict:
1. Plan Ahead
Anything that you can do the night before will save time in the morning — packing lunches, taking showers, choosing clothes. For younger kids, it’s helpful to break tasks down into small steps and praise them when they do them successfully. Older kids can use checklists. And visual prompts like posted schedules can help kids, especially those with ADHD or autism. Over time, all kids can build routines that they can complete with less help.
2. Temper expectations
It also helps to focus on just the essential tasks, like getting dressed and brushing teeth. For example, you might want your child to make their bed in the morning, but they can still have a good day at school if that doesn’t happen. Once kids have mastered the basics, you can try adding more tasks to the routine.
3. Use visual prompts
Visual prompts might include posted schedules and photos of targeted behaviors, such as a picture of a child brushing her teeth near the sink.
With typically developing children and teens, the amount of visualization needed varies. Some kids only need their parents to give instructions verbally while some need more reminders or time to form their morning routine and habits.
4. Create incentives
Rewards can be key. They can be either short term, involving some kind of immediate treat or, because of the time crunch, earned privileges to be enjoyed later. Small rewards, like a special cereal for breakfast, can motivate them to stick to the plan.
5. Stay calm
As a parent, you will have tougher mornings than others where tempers may start to flare...When this happens, think about ways deescalate the situation, since arguing is a distraction and can slow things down even more. There are several ways parents can try to deescalate a situation, such as:
- Speaking in a calm tone
- Being clear about expectations
- Continuing to praise even small efforts rather than focusing on what the child might not be doing
- Focusing on the next step in the process
- Keeping one’s eye on the prize, both in the short and long terms.
And if your child consistently has trouble even getting out of bed or throws a tantrum every morning, call your pediatric provider to discuss further options and methods that may be helpful for your family.