background img

Morning routine chaos: How can I end the madness?

Dear Mama Drama:

(photo credit)

I am having a hard time getting my four-year-old to preschool on time. I usually ask him to get ready while I hop in the shower. When I get out, he hasn’t done anything. I get so frustrated because we are then rushing around and end up being late.

Please help us with this madness!

~Delayed Mama

Dear Delayed:

Getting out of the door on time in the morning is a challenge for many families. It is important to consider your child’s age and skill level when determining how independently he can complete the tasks you are asking of him. It sounds like your son, like most four-year-olds, will need more adult support to get through the morning routine.

When things are not working it is time to develop a new plan.

One idea would be to bring the items he needs to use into the bathroom where you are showering. He can get dressed, wash his face, and brush his teeth and hair while you shower. Having him in the room with you allows you to peek out periodically to give him support and encouragement. Have some books in a basket that he can look at as a reward when he’s done.

Another idea is to change your routine. Get up fifteen minutes earlier to take your shower and then you can work together to get dressed and ready to leave.

Provide visual supports. This previous Mama Drama column on Morning Routines explains how and why to use visuals as you move your son toward greater independence.  It also addresses the issue of awareness of time, or lack thereof, and strategies to help your child develop this.

Avoid distractions like television, videos, radios, toys, and computers that pull your child’s attention away from the task at hand. Use these as a carrot to encourage him to complete his tasks. Set a goal of being ready ten minutes before you need to leave and he can then choose a preferred activity for those few minutes. This also gives you time to slow down, have a cup of coffee or tea, and finish any last minute tasks.

It is always critical to remember that if things aren’t working, we need to change something…and it isn’t our children, it is ourselves. Provide the supports he needs and mornings will be smoother for everyone.

What tricks help your mornings run smoothly?

Lisa Vratny-Smith

Mama Drama: Anniversary Advice Round Up

Mama Drama is celebrating two years with Mile High Mamas!!

We’ve rounded up all of the drama Lisa has covered during that time into a variety of categories to make it easier for you to find that special nugget of information or advice you need.

Keep the questions coming ([email protected]) and remember that we all have our share of Mama Drama, so contribute your advice, ideas, and tried and true strategies as we support each other through the journey of motherhood in this fabulous community of moms.

Be sure to bookmark this page for easy access and share it with all your mommy friends!

Developmental issues:

Articulation Angst – When to worry about speech concerns.

Mama Drama: Helicopter Mom Needs Help Landing

Dear Mama Drama:

I am the mother of two girls and enjoy being active in their school. I volunteer in a variety of ways in the classroom and in the school in general.

(photo credit)

I stay on top of the girls’ academics and social issues and step in whenever I or they have concerns. My husband has recently said that I am being a “helicopter mom.” He says I need to let the girls speak up for themselves and solve some of their issues without me stepping in. I just want to do what is best for them, but don’t want to hinder them.

How can I support them without interfering or rescuing?

~ Hovering Mama

(Send your Mama Drama Questions to [email protected])

Dear Hovering:

Involved parents make a huge positive impact on the success of their children. However, it is important, though often challenging, to balance involvement without interfering or rescuing.

Your girls are lucky to have a mother who has the time and is willing to be so involved in their school. While it is necessary to keep tabs on how your children are doing socially and academically, it is just as important to begin giving them the tools to succeed on their own. Learning to ask for help, stand up for themselves, and solve problems are critical skills to becoming independent and successful adults ~ which we sometimes forget is the end goal of all this parenting stuff. 🙂 Supporting your daughters in learning these skills will also improve their self-esteem and confidence. Children who are constantly rescued come to believe they are incapable of handling their own problems.

Since your girls are used to you stepping in and taking care of things for them there may be some discomfort for all of you as you begin shifting some of those responsibilities to them. I suggest beginning with an open conversation with the whole family. Let them know you have noticed that you’ve been doing some things for them that you think they now have the skills to do on their own. Discuss that as children get older they take on more and more responsibilities. Sometimes this means learning to do the laundry, wash dishes, or mow the lawn, and sometimes this means learning to handle academic and social situations independently.

When social or academic issues come up, start with problem solving conversations where you ask questions and listen rather than solving things for them. Have them explain the situation as they see it. Help them to walk back through what happened before the difficulty and look at how they may have contributed to the problem. Was there anything they could have done differently? Then ask how they think the problem could be solved. (You fixing it might be there immediate answer until they get used to thinking for themselves.)

If they don’t have any ideas, ask if they’d like some suggestions. Be sure to give more than one, so they do some thinking about their choices. Once they decide on a plan of action role play with them to practice the language they want to use and help them get used to speaking up for themselves. Finally, ask them if they think they can handle the situation on their own or if they’d like you to be nearby for support. This continues to give them the message that you are there for them, but that you trust they can handle the situation. Check in with them afterward to see how things went, celebrating their successes and problem solving some more when things don’t go so well.

While you are teaching your girls these steps you are also teaching yourself to let go and grow as a parent. Letting go is a practice and there will be times it will come more easily than others. When you notice that you’ve overstepped or are hovering, be gentle with yourself. It’s a habit that you are working to change and it will take a lot of practice. Step back, reassess, and make a new plan. You may find yourself saying, “You know, I started to take care of this for you, but I just realized that this is something I know you can handle. I’m going to let you take charge of this.”

Supporting your daughters in developing these skills will be a life long gift they will greatly appreciate. As you trust them to become more independent, your relationship will become even stronger and more positive. You’ll become a safe landing place, a helipad, rather than a helicopter.

The extra bonus is while they are handling their issues more autonomously you’ll find a bit more space and time for you and your needs. A tough balance for any mom, but especially moms with a tendency to hover.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs 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! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Teaching Independence

Dear Mama Drama:

I am trying to get my five-year-old son to be more independent in bathing and dressing himself. I have been working with him for the past two weeks on this and he still cannot do anything on his own. I am frustrated and he starts crying every time I tell him to do it on his own.

I don’t understand why this is so hard or how to help him.

~Confused Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Confused:

Building independent self-care skills for bathing, dressing, etc., is very important for five year olds. While we, as parents, view these skills as fairly basic, we have to remember that we have been doing them for many, many years. Tasks that seem like one step for us, i.e. washing our hair, are really multiple steps.  For your son to try to master all of these things in a short amount of time is probably quite overwhelming.

Rather than working on all independent self-help skills at once, I suggested stepping back and deciding what will be the easiest skill for him to master. Start with that skill so he can experience success quickly and build from there.

Break down the skill step by step and teach him in manageable chunks. For example, if you are teaching him to wash his hair the steps are 1) wet your hair, 2) get the shampoo bottle, 3) pour shampoo on your hand, 4) put the bottle down, 5) rub your hands together, 6) rub the shampoo all over your head/hair (this in and of itself requires lots of practice), 7) rinse the shampoo out of your hair.

Talk through the steps as you do them for him. Then talk through the steps as he does them himself. Use simple, concise language to describe each step. After a few days of this have him tell you the steps to wash his hair. Then have him talk through the steps as he washes his hair. Making up a song or rhyme to describe the routine can make things more fun and easier to remember. Be sure to give your lots of positive recognition for his efforts throughout the process of learning. Focus on what he has done well and gently re-teach when he struggles.

Once he has master washing his hair move on to the next skill while continuing to encourage and reinforce the skill he has mastered. If he uses hair conditioner that is a perfect second skill because he already knows the steps with the shampoo!

Clear and simple directions will make a big difference for your son as he works master these self-help tasks. Using visual schedules (pictures of the task) to show the steps can be very helpful and allows you to support him without always telling him what to do. As you fade your verbal cues, you can have him use the visual schedule to see what comes next. Visual schedules can be used to describe a broad daily routine as well as to break down the steps of tasks within that routine.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs 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.

Mama Drama: Respectful Independence

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son has recently become very rude and disrespectful. Every time I ask him to do something he argues with me. When I try to help him with something he becomes surly and impatient. When he is with his friends he is either rude or acts embarrassed to be seen with me.

We used to be so close and he would cuddle with me and hold my hand wherever we went. I don’t understand his behavior and am not sure what to do.

~ Disrespected Mom

(photo credit)

Dear Disrespected:

It sounds like your son is trying to exert his independence, but he does not know how to do so respectfully.

Around the age of eight or nine, boys begin to feel the need to individuate from their mothers. They become aware of the gender difference between themselves and their moms and need to find ways to identify themselves differently. When they have strong bonds with their mothers, this can be confusing to both them and their moms.

Eight-year-olds are also seeking to be more independent in their skills and completing tasks. As parents, we sometimes provide too much support and forget to let them try things out on their own a bit more. Children often don’t know how to express what they need, so they act rude or surly.

Take a look at your expectations for your son and reflect on what he may be able to do more independently and what new responsibilities he may be able to take on. Then have a frank conversation with him about his behavior. Let him know that it is normal for boys to want to be less dependent on their moms. Then help him develop some phrases he can use to respectfully let you know he needs more space, less support, or more independence. Phrases such as, “Thanks mom, but I can do this on my own.” or “I’m working on a project right now; is it alright if I do that in ten minutes?” Discuss the importance of tone of voice and practice by role-playing different situations.

Continue providing choices for your son when you give him directions just as we recommend with younger children. Allow him a range of time to complete tasks or give a deadline to help him feel he has some independence and is respected for his ability to be responsible. Be consistent with your expectations and be ready to adjust as he demonstrates more responsibility.

It is important to be clear and direct with your son regarding his behavior towards you and particularly his actions in front of his peers. Let him know that the way he treats you communicates to his friends how they should treat you. Discuss how he perceives peers who treat their parents rudely and if he wants his friends to think of him that way. Plan ahead for giving a hug at the car away from peers, keeping endearments such as “sweetie” or “sugar” out of ear shot of friends, and maybe creating a special handshake or non-verbal sign you can give each other that provides the connection you need and the independence he is seeking.

A great resource for understanding the behavior and development of boys is The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs 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.

Mama Drama: Grocery Grabbers and Independent Eights

Dear Mama Drama:

Every time we go to the grocery store my two-year-old daughter climbs all over the cart. She stands up and grabs at things and has nearly fallen out several times. I have talked with her over and over, bribed her with treats, and threatened to leave the store, but nothing has worked. What else can I do?

~At my wits end!

Dear Wits End:

The first thing to do is buckle your daughter into the cart every time she is in one. She may fuss and whine, but this should be a non-negotiable point.

Next, give her something to do while she is in the cart. Sitting for long, seemingly endless trips to the store can be very frustrating for a child. Let her hold the shopping list and help you cross off items. Give her a drawing pad or magnet drawing toy and have her make her own list. Bring a small bag of board books she can read.

Try to keep shopping trips brief. Create a list of ten items and have her help you count them down. As you go through the store to find your items, enlist her help. “I’m looking for something blue (show her what blue is if she doesn’t know). Do you see it?” “We need bananas. Do you know where they are?” Stick to the ten items on the list for that trip, so she knows when the shopping is done.

Having an incentive at the end of the shopping trip is okay, but make sure the treat is an interactive activity most of the time. Tell your daughter, “We’re going to the store to get ten items. If you stay safe in the cart, we will play at the park when we’re done.” Be sure to describe what safe in the cart specifically means, i.e., strap stays buckled, bottom is on the seat, hands stay in the cart, etc.

Throughout the shopping trip frequently notice when she is being safe, “You are keeping your hands in the cart. Thank you.” If she is struggling, restate your expectations and her incentive, “If you want to go to the park, your bottom must stay on the seat.” When you reach the check out line (with all the tempting candies), remind her of her incentive and the expected behaviors, “You have been so safe in the cart. Keep your hands in the cart and stay on your bottom and we can go to the park.”

Finally, before you threaten to leave the store, be sure you are prepared to do so. Empty threats will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. If your daughter is not being safe in the cart, restate your expectations of what she is to do (see above). If she continues to be unsafe, park the cart and leave. Do this calmly, saying, “Uh-oh, you aren’t being safe in the cart so we have to leave. It’s so sad we won’t be able to go to the park today.” Expect a fit, but don’t react. You can empathize with her by saying, “I know. It’s so sad.” Then hold her hand or pick her up and walk out the door.

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son is very rude to me in front of his friends. He says he wants me to volunteer in his classroom, but won’t acknowledge me when I am there. He wants me to walk behind him in the hallway and snaps at me when he does talk to me at school. At home he is all hugs and kisses.

~Confused Mama

Dear Confused Mama:

Your son is at the age where he is beginning to see himself as separate from you and seek more independence. Eight to nine is a typical stage for boys to begin this process. It is important to guide your son through this phase and set limits about his behavior.

Have a direct conversation about this issue with you son. Tell him you have noticed that at home he is kind and loving, but at school he is rude and distant. Let him know that all boys go through a phase of seeking independence and creating an identity separate from their mothers. Emphasize that this is a typical part of growing up. Be clear with him, however, there is no need for this to be done in a rude or disrespectful manner.

Discuss ways in which he would like to be more independent and make a plan to support him with this. Then, discuss how you expect him to treat you at school and other public places. Let him know that the manner in which he treats you will teach his peers how he wants them to treat you. Also, tell him that when he acts disrespectfully, he does not look cool, he looks rude.

While girls tend to like face-to-face conversations, this often makes boys uncomfortable. When you talk with your son, sit side by side with him or have the conversation while out on a walk or riding in the car. This will feel less threatening for him.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs 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.