Make Over Your Morning Routine for Kids

The Daily Dillydally

messy kitchen

Jenny Risher

Sally, Gregg, 8-year-old Eddie, and 6-year-old Jane
Encino, California

Common Hurdles General dawdling. Multiple (and escalating) pleas to eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, put shoes on. An easily distractible 8-year-old and a rather stubborn 6-year-old.

The Expert Sharon Pieters, parenting coach in Los Angeles and Chicago and founder of

Morning Story No, the piano is not a logical next stop after eating breakfast and before brushing teeth, but it's not beyond Eddie to meander over to the bench, plunk down, and practice his lessons. Meanwhile, Jane insists on wearing a particular T-shirt with a particular skirt and will spend half an hour looking for them and then have a tantrum instead of opting for another outfit.

Since every morning is a short blitz of prodding and prompting and reminding, the idea of blowing her stack to get stuff done doesn't really appeal to Sally -- especially because she knows that as soon as she drops the kids off, she will return to her home office in a peaceful, stress-free house.

Pieters's first question to Sally: Is morning the only time she can't get her children under control? Sally's answer: predominantly, yes. That's good news, says Pieters. When your kids' recalcitrance extends to other places or times of the day, it means "they don't listen to you because they know there is no major consequence," she says. "When I go and help families, I am so strict and I turn the kids' lives upside-down," she says. "And they love it. They thrive on clear rules and boundaries."

Her recommendations might require some guts, but Pieters swears they work -- and immediately -- since their shock value shortens the learning curve. "If your kid doesn't want to get dressed, drop him off at school in his pajamas. I promise it will never happen again." She points out that this tactic also works with children who get sucked into the vortex of morning television or video games: "If they tell you they don't want to brush their teeth or get ready, just sit down with them and hang out," she suggests. Most likely, they'll be puzzled and will start prodding you to get moving. (Reverse psychology: 3,923,721; kids: zilch.) If not, though -- and obviously, only on a morning when your own schedule allows this -- "take them to school late and have them explain to the secretary that they're not on time because they wanted to watch TV," she says. "You certainly don't want to shame children, but there are specific instances when it actually helps for them to have to admit, 'I didn't listen to Mom and that's why this happened.' The point is to teach your child responsibility." If that tactic doesn't work for you, try instilling a rule that your child can only watch TV once she is dressed and her backpack is waiting by the door. "This alone proves to be an incentive; kids love having time to relax before school," says Pieters.

Beyond suggesting to Sally that she maintain more toughness each morning, Pieters also recommends that she observe her children with their teachers: "Why is it that a teacher can round up 20 students and get them moving?" You might see them responding to specific commands or discover that their teachers have special hand signals that get the kids to quiet down. These are things you can adopt and ritualize, since the reason it works for the teacher is because she does it all the time. When you see that kind of obedience in action at school, you know you can get a piece of it each morning at home.

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