Dear Mama Drama:
Every morning we struggle with my five-year-old son to get him ready for school and out of the house on time. He needs lots of one on one support to complete even the most basic tasks such as getting dressed. He can’t remember what to do next and often stops to play with toys or sing the song on the radio.
~Tired of running late
Many children need extra support getting through their morning routine. When we stop to think about all the small steps involved, it can be quite daunting. As adults we have practiced these routines thousands of times throughout our lives. Our children are often still figuring out what each step is and how to keep track of it all.
Creating a visual schedule for your child is a great place to start. You can use pictures of your son doing each activity, clip art, pictures from the web or cut out of magazines. Add captions or directions with the picture even if your child does not read well yet. Start with the basics such as getting dressed, bathroom routine, and heading out the door. Then break these down into the steps they require. Having separate charts for each of these tasks helps to keep it simple.
An example is washing hands. We think of it as one or two steps, e.g., wash hands, dry hands. Many children need to see of all the steps involved in order to be successful, i.e., turn on water, wet hands, squirt soap in hands, rub soap all over hands, rinse hands with water, turn water off, dry hands with towel.
Helping kids increase their awareness of time is another important factor in the morning routine. You can set a goal for each step or set of steps to be completed. This can be done with a timer for each task or by teaching your son how to read the digital or analog clock. A lot of kids enjoy racing the clock. Setting reasonable time goals and getting your son’s input will optimize his success.
It is also important to minimize distractions. Leave the radio and television off in the mornings and have toys put away before bed so they aren’t out in the morning to distract him. You can also use the toys or radio as carrots, e.g., “You can listen to the radio while you eat, if you are dressed before the timer goes off.”
Preparing what you can the night before will also make a big difference in the number of steps your son has to complete in the morning. Before bed work with your son to choose his clothes for the next day; prepare his backpack and put it by the front door; have shoes, coats, hats, sunglasses, etc., also ready to go. As the weather changes, finding those elusive mittens and boots in the evening will decrease morning stress.
After you teach your son how to use the visual schedule you have created and allow him time to practice using it, it is important to decrease the verbal cues you are giving him. Instead of telling him the next step to do, ask him to check his schedule. This helps him learn what to do when he doesn’t know what’s next (check his schedule) and increases his level of independence. This is a life skill that is great to learn early.
You may need to try out a few different ideas before you find the ones that work best for you and your son. It is also important to remember that as he grows and changes, you will need to adapt the supports you have in place for him.
Dear Mama Drama:
My eight-year-old daughter has been having huge meltdowns just after we put her to bed. Her class this year has more demands and I am concerned about stress and possible social issues with her peers. She appears perfectly happy when I pick her up after school and says she has had a good day. Once we put her to bed she has been asking for water, wants a back rub, wants another story, and the list goes on. When I reach my limit and tell her no more, she cries hysterically and yells that we don’t love her. My husband and I are at a loss for how to help her.
~ Done with the drama
With new challenges and increased demands, kids often have difficulty integrating all the social and emotional aspects that go along with it. They also may feel uncertain about how to tell you what is wrong. Sometimes kids want to be more independent and feel that they’ve failed if they have to ask for help.
Your daughter also seems to be seeking attention from you, but is not able to do so in a way that meets her need positively or is working for you. Being proactive in providing her that attention in a positive way may help to ease the evening hysteria.
Set a time each day for you and/or your husband to have some one on one time with your daughter. It might be just before bed, as that is when she seems to feel more needy, or at another convenient time in your evening schedule. As you talk with your daughter about her day, I would suggest not taking, “I had a good day,” at face value. Ask more questions about what went well, what was not so great, and what was just okay. This gives her time to think about the various parts of her day, provides a structure for her to explore her feelings, lets her know everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and provides time for the two of you to connect.
Some children feel more comfortable drawing or writing about their day and their feelings. Children often enjoy having a private journal in which to write their thoughts and experiences. Sitting down to talk with your daughter about her day after she has time to draw or write may help her to express her needs more clearly.
Be sure to check in with your daughter’s teacher as well. He or she may have some insights about her concerns or stressors and will also be a good support for her in the classroom.
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column will be running on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.