In Part 1 of this blog, I talked about the first step in managing mornings with complex kids – managing yourself. In every situation, we have the choice about how we want to respond. It can be powerful to realize how those choices impact how we handle the situation. Next, it's time to focus on how you manage your child's behaviors.
Part 2: Manage your Kid
So even though we can't control our kids, we can do some things to help set them up for success. Our kids need our help, and while staying calm and managing our own mindset can go a long way, sometimes it's about tools and strategies. Here are some simple things that you can do to help:
1. Set reasonable expectations for them.
I can't stress this enough: our kids are typically 3-5 years behind their peers developmentally! Even at age 14, I've realized that it is not reasonable for me to expect my son to wake up on his own. Getting up and out of the house requires not only a high level of executive function, but an alert brain. Most ADHD teens have neither of these at 6:45am. Getting from the bed to the bus stop is actually a very complex process that requires a significant level of focus and working memory. There need to be systems and structures in place (in our house it's me) to help get them through with as few snags as possible.
2. Hold them accountable.
Have conversations with your kids about what they need in terms of support, and what motivates them (but don't do this at 6:45am!). Create an agreement that you all can live with, and then set up some accountability. Treat it like you treat house rules. My kids have negotiated two in person wake-up calls (I consider it a snooze alarm) and then a time-check every 5-10 minutes. We also have incentives in place if they hit certain time marks. E.g., if they are downstairs by 7:20, they get 30 minutes of screen time that evening. It's their job to let me know what they need, and to live by the agreed upon house rules. If they don't follow the rules, then…
3. Let the chips fall where they may.
Sometimes our kids have to feel the consequences of their actions. One of my clients was really struggling with mornings, because if her daughter was tardy, she was the one getting “in trouble” with the office at school. Find a way to make it their problem. Maybe they have to pay for a cab, or call a neighbor if they miss the bus. Maybe their allowance covers the cost of gas for each trip you have to make to school. What I have found to be the biggest incentive for my kids (even more than earning screen time) is the threat of having to ride to school with Mom. My kids don't get to ride the bus unless they are done eating breakfast and brushing their teeth before the bus comes. As middle-schoolers, they will do anything not to miss that valuable social time with their friends (not to mention avoid time with Mom 😉 )
4. Set reasonable expectations for yourself.
I have come to realize that I need to be 100% available for the 45 minutes in the morning while my kids are transitioning from bed to the bus stop. The craziest mornings are the ones when I find myself lost in emails or trying to get dressed and ready while they are. Get some support if you need it. In some families, parents do a tag-team routine; in others, one parent always gets out of the house early so that there aren't too many managers involved. I know that in order to keep myself sane, and keep things running smoothly, I need to be managing and directing what goes on. For now, it works; as my kids get older, I'll continue to shift the responsibility to them. Things run differently in Elaine's house. Every family is different.
5. Manage your mindset.
The first part of this blog was all about managing us. It really is where it all starts. I once heard a quote: “If you lose your cool, you lose your control.” It is so true. It's almost impossible to parent effectively when you are in threat mode. Manage yourself, then focus on your kids.