Dr Justin Coulson is one of Australia’s most respected and popular parenting authors and speakers. In this article he tackles an important issue for families - how to start the day well.
Mornings can be tricky. There’s not much time. There’s lots to do. We’re often tired and stressed (and the day has barely begun!). And the children… well, they can be ornery, non-compliant, and even oppositional.
As parents to six children, my wife Kylie and I have spent years experimenting with various systems to make mornings magic.
Here’s what we discovered:
- Yelling didn’t work.
- Bribes and reward charts didn’t work more than a day or two.
- Doing everything for the children was nearly impossible.
What other options did we have?
Eventually, after years of trial and error - we came up with an approach that works for everyone. As I have spoken with thousands of families who have tried it, the response has been almost universal approval.
The idea is based on three psychology ideas that are designed to help children to be motivated and feel good:
- We aim to build our children’s capacity,
- Respect their autonomy and desire to be in charge of their own choices, and
- Maintain positive connections at all times.
By helping our children manage their mornings themselves, more gets done with less effort. Plus children experience a boost to their confidence and self-esteem, and it encourages them to develop their initiative and problem-solving skills.
The best thing about the strategy we have developed is that when we teach our children to do stuff themselves we, as their parents, get to sit back, relax, and marvel at their independence while enjoying a peaceful, easy morning. (Or at least, more peaceful and easy than they would otherwise be.)
Your Morning Begins the Night Before
For this to work you’ll need three things: a breakfast menu, a lunch menu, and a personalised checklist.
For younger children you might want to use pictures rather than words. Or you could use a combination of both. Dedicate a little time to photograph your toddler or preschooler’s bag, hat, their bed made and tomorrow’s outfit laid on their bed (don’t forget the socks!). Keep the visual to five items or less, to keep it simple for your child.
Before bed, remind your child that it’s time to get organised for tomorrow. Take them to their room and, using the checklist, have them lay out their clothes, shoes, bag, and other items required for the next morning.
Next, go to the kitchen and pull out the breakfast menu (just like in a hotel!). Ideally you’ll create a picture menu for your child by taking photos of breakfast options for them to pick such as toast, yogurt, cereal - you name it! The same goes with their lunches. Now just sit with your toddler and teach them how to use the menu to choose what they’d like to eat for breakfast and lunch.