Mom and Dad get up early, take their showers, pack lunches, and wake up the kids. Jodi, age four, jumps out of bed and plants herself in front of the TV, where she tunes out everyone but Mr. Rogers. Todd, age two, groans, thrashes around in his bed, and starts to cry. Mom and Dad try to comfort him, but they’re so rushed that they don’t have much time. Eventually, Todd rolls out of bed and whines for a bottle. While he drinks it, Dad tries to dress Todd, but he struggles, making it almost impossible to get his clothes on. The stress level rises as the deadline for leaving draws closer. Breakfast consists of gulping and griping. By the time the family arrives at their destination, the day is ruined. Does this scene remind you of your own mornings? When we adults plan our lives (or avoid planning them) we often forget to look at life the way our children see it. As much as we love them, we sometimes treat our children as extensions of ourselves. If we believe something is necessary for ourselves and the family, we expect our kids to go along with it. This may seem logical, but kids tend to relate to the world in terms of their own needs, rather than in terms of logic.Your child’s most fundamental need is for you: Your love is vital to his or her survival and well being. Second only to love, your child needs empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of another person. When you understand your child’s point of view and accept it as valid, you are building a mutual bond based on love and empathy.
Empathy Is the Key
What does empathy have to do with transitions and the morning scene? A transition is the process of getting from here to there. From bed to destination, the entire departure is a transition. Transitions are especially hard for children because there are demands and goals that do not always meet their needs or offer any motivation. Even when children love where they are going, they may prefer to stay in bed until they are ready to get up, sit around in their pajamas until they are ready to get dressed, and eat breakfast when they are hungry. Adults may feel the same way but we train ourselves to deny those feelings because we reap an obvious reward. For children, the rewards of rushing to leave home are less desirable and the end result might be saying good-bye. Children are motivated to postpone the family’s departure, rather than hurry it up.When we forget to consider the needs of children, the result is resentment and frustration from everyone involved. There is no simple solution to hectic departures, but it helps if you establish a routine based on the needs of your child. This demands empathy on your part, to understand and accept those needs.Start from there and build routines that are workable, predictable, and rewarding. It may require some preparation the night before, but it’s worth the effort.
IDEAS FOR ESTABLISHING ROUTINES
Figure out what is most important to your children in the morning and allow as much time for that as possible, even if it means waking up your family 15 minutes earlier.
Structure the pre-departure events so they happen at the same time and in the same way every day. Kids are more cooperative when they know what to expect.
Avoid power struggles over noncritical issues. Offer your children reasonable choices without arguing and save any long discussions for the evening.
Motivate your children by rewarding them with more of your attention. Read a story, sing songs, or watch part of Mr. Rogers together and create your own morning ritual.
Empathize with your child’s needs and desires “I know that you’d rather stay home; so would I. I’ll sure miss you.”
Make the minutes before you leave memorable; give lots of hugs and kisses so your children have something to remember and smile about until you’re together again.
Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.