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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: Morning Routines and Evening Hysteria

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

Dear Tired:
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