Eat your breakfast! Hurry up; you’ll be late! Where’s your backpack?
Parents at their wits’ end with the morning rush may find themselves yelling these phrases to sleepy kids. But peaceful morning routines don’t happen with the phrases above. Preferred behavior happens when we cultivate good communication habits with our children.
And a new school year is a great time to start routines that make mornings happier and less stressful. Behaviorists tell us discipline that promotes positive behavior is more effective than efforts to extinguish negative behavior. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for launching morning routines that set and affirm positive behavior.
1: Praise, affirm and reward the good behavior.
When you see good behavior in your children, praise it, praise it, praise it. You might catch your kids doing their homework, treating others respectfully or being responsible for themselves. Here’s what you might say.
I like how you put your finished homework in your backpack so we don’t have to hunt for it in the morning.
Thank you for hanging up your coat so we know where to find it in the morning.
Thanks so much for taking your little brother’s uniform out of the dryer when you got your own.
Wow, you’re out of bed on time! Thanks for setting your own alarm. I love hugging you in the morning instead of nagging you to get up.
2: Redirect negative behavior.
When bad behavior occurs, state the behavior you want and offer an alternative. Giving children choices empowers them to take responsibility for their own lives and behavior. Knowing a child’s interests and motivations is necessary to be successful in redirecting behavior. Here are two examples.
When Grace rushes through her tooth brushing and face washing routines, ask her to go back and try again so she can be first to pick what she wants to go in her lunchbox for the day.
If Juan is late to the breakfast table because he forgot to set his alarm, tell him something like this: “In order to not make your brother and sister late, you’ll have to take breakfast with you. You can eat an apple and a granola bar in the car or put a pear and dry cereal box in your backpack for later.”
3: Prepare for success.
Have a school prep plan, work the plan and reward the plan. Set clear expectations and follow through. Here’s an example.
Prep the backpack: Backpacks should be packed the night before school. When they are, reward that positive behavior with special praise or a small treat.
Pick out school clothes: The next day’s outfit (including socks and shoes) should be chosen the night before. Reward children for doing so by allowing a special privilege when they get home the next afternoon.
Keep regular bedtimes: Kids—and adults—can’t get up on time without going to bed on time. Establish positive bedtime rituals, like reading books, and keep them. Buy your child his own alarm and praise him when he uses it to get up.
Practice what you preach: Modeling the behavior you want is foundational to morning routine success. This can include Mom declaring, “See, I got my laptop bag ready for work ahead of time; I’m so proud of myself!”
Use a reward system: Behavior charts help kids take responsibility for their own behavior. Instead of parents reminding or nagging about brushing teeth or feeding the dog, put the behaviors that need to be accomplished on a poster board in list form. Put a check or gold star on the behaviors when kids do them without being reminded. When the checks, stars or points add up, reward the kids every Friday. It’s truly amazing what kids will do for a sticker book or what tweens will do for movie tickets.
Laura Lyles Reagan is a freelance writer and author of How to Raise Respectful Parents.