by Dr. Jane Nelsen
"Jimmy, time to get up! C'mon, Jimmy, get up now! This is the last time I'm going to call you!"
Sound familiar? Mornings in Jimmy's home are much like mornings in other homes around the world—hectic, argumentative, and full of hassles. Jimmy has not learned to be responsible because Mom is too busy being responsible for him. It gets worse as the morning continues.
"How should I know where your books are? Where did you leave them? How many times have I told you to put them where they belong? If you don't hurry up and eat, you're just going to have to go to school hungry. You're still not dressed, and the bus will be here in five minutes! I'm not going to take you to school if you're not ready—and I mean it! (While driving Jimmy to school), “Jimmy, when will you ever learn? This is absolutely the last time I'll drive you to school when you miss the bus. You've got to learn to be more responsible!"
What do you think? Is this the last time Jimmy's mother will drive him to school when he misses the bus? No. Jimmy is very intelligent. He knows his mother’s threats are meaningless. He has heard the threats many times and knows his mother will drive him to school when he's late.
Jimmy's mother is right about one thing: Jimmy should learn to be more responsible. But through morning scenes like these, she is teaching him to be less responsible. She is the responsible party when she keeps reminding him of everything he needs to do.
Lecturing, Nagging, Scolding, Threatening
Children do not learn from the lecturing, nagging, scolding, and threatening.
Actually, they do learn from these methods—just not what you hope they will learn. They learn to engage in power-struggles, resistance, rebellion, and revenge cycles. They may learn to comply and become approval junkies—more concerned about pleasing others to feel a sense of belonging and significance than to cooperate out of mutual respect.
It is possible to enjoy hassle free mornings while teaching children self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills—the characteristics of happy, successful people with a healthy sense of self-worth and respect for self and others. What a wonderful gift to give your children while enjoying peaceful mornings. The key is letting go. Many parents are afraid that letting go means abandoning their children or giving in to permissiveness. In Positive Discipline terms, letting go means allowing children to develop their sense of cooperation and capability.
7 Tips for Letting Go, Avoiding Morning Hassles and Teaching Responsibility
- Involve children in the problem-solving process.
When children are involved in solutions they have ownership and motivation to follow the plans they have helped create. Sit down with your children during a family meeting or a more informal session. Present the problem and ask for suggestions, "We are having a lot of morning hassles. What ideas do you have on how we could solve this problem?" Your attitude and tone of voice in presenting the problem is crucial. Humiliation invites resistance and defensiveness. Respect invites cooperation. Write down every suggestion. You can make suggestions too, but only after allowing plenty of time for theirs first. Select the suggestions that everyone can agree upon and discuss exactly how it will be implemented. Willing agreement by everyone involved is essential so that everyone feels the desire to cooperate.
Ownership and motivation are not the only benefits of getting children involved in the problem-solving process. They usually have great ideas when we allow them to contribute. They also develop the perception that they are capable and the a feeling of self-confidence that comes from making valuable contributions. And, it helps you let go.
- Involve children in the creation of routines.
One of the best ways to avoid morning hassles is by starting the night before with a routine that helps avoid bedtime hassles, so start with the creation of a bedtime routine with your children.
After your child makes a list (either writing herself or with you transcribing) of everything she can think of to include as part of her bedtime routine, ask, “What about getting your things ready for the next morning?" During this time she can choose the clothes she wants to wear the next morning.
Have you noticed that when children are under time pressures they always want to wear the special shirt that they can't find anywhere? If they do finally find it at the bottom of the clothes hamper they insist it has to be washed and ironed before school. On the other hand, when they have plenty of time it seems easy for them to choose something in their closet and lay it out for the next morning. During this time they can also find their shoes, socks, books, homework, and whatever else they need for the next morning. Next, help your children create their own morning routine chart. Let your children decide what time they need to get up, how much time they need to get ready, what part they will play in the breakfast routine, and rules about the television not being turned on until everything is done and their is time left over. Young children love it when you take photos of them doing each task on their routine charts and let them post the photo next to the task, and then hang the routine charts where they can be easily seen.
- Let go by allowing children to experience natural or logical consequences.
Natural consequences are what happens naturally, without adult interference. When you stand in the rain, you get wet; when you don't eat, you get hungry; when you forget your coat, you get cold. Logical consequences require adult intervention. Obviously, you aren't going to allow your children to experience the natural consequences of playing in the middle of a busy street, or when a child is throwing rocks at another person, an adult needs to step in, because the child is interfering with the rights of another person. Also, when the results of the child's behavior do not seem like a problem to the child, natural consequences (such as eating junk food and not brushing their teeth) are ineffective. Children can learn a great deal from natural and logical consequences to help them develop responsibility if you are willing to let go. Jimmy will learn to be responsible when his mother stays out of the way and allows him to experience the consequences of being late.
- Decide what you will do.
This is one way to take a small step in letting go of the power struggles you create when trying to make children do something. Let your children know in advance what you plan to do. For example, Jimmy's mother might tell him that she will call him once to get up. (Or better yet, she will buy him an alarm clock, teach him how to use it, and let him take full responsibility.) If he doesn't take the responsibility from then on, he will probably miss his bus. Mom can let him know in a kind and firm manner that she is not willing to drive him to school. If he misses his bus, he will have to walk to school and may have to stay late to make up the time. (If walking is not an option because safety is an issue you may wish to find another solution. Perhaps Jimmy can spend time after school doing something for mommy to make up for the time spent driving Jimmy to school.)
- Follow-through with actions, not words.
When children test your new plan, the fewer words you use the better. Keep your mouth shut and act. If Jimmy continues to dawdle and misses his bus, don't resort to "I told you so." Just follow through on agreed-upon consequences. The few words you do use to ensure firmness with dignity and respect should be stated in a kind and friendly manner. "I'm sorry you missed your bus, Jimmy. We can talk about your walking experience tomorrow." Ignore the temptation to become involved in a power struggle or revenge cycle. Children will do their best to get you sucked into your usual response. When Jimmy says, "Please drive me, Mom. I won't be late again," don't give in. Kindly and firmly remind him of your decision. Then jump in the shower so you're not tempted to get involved in further discussion!
- Things may get worse before they get better.
Children may try hard to get the response they are used to getting from you. Be consistent with your new plan of action and children will learn a new response-ability. If Jimmy is late and misses his bus, he will have to experience the natural consequence—walking to school. If Jimmy doesn't like walking to school, it won't be long before he begins to take responsibility for himself.
- Have faith in your children.
Children learn to be capable people by spending time with people who believe they are capable. For example, when Jimmy's mother believes that he can get himself up and ready for school without her hassling him constantly, Jimmy will also believe that he can accomplish this feat on his own. It gives him a new sense of self-confidence—even at age six. If he can handle getting himself up and ready for school, what can't he handle?
If you want to turn morning hassles into morning bliss, practice the steps for letting go outlined above. Teach your children the joys of responsibility, cooperation, and self-discipline. How much better to face a morning full of love, understanding, and fun than a morning full of hassles, criticism, and arguments.