It’s August in the valley which means that Target's and Walmart's everywhere are chock full of lunchboxes, color pencils, and other essentials that will fill the backpacks of children returning to school. With the back-to-school shopping comes ‘meet the teacher’ nights and lunch packing, and an end to summer camps and vacations. But the return to school also ushers in the return of morning routines which are a struggle for many families.
Do you often find yourself battling with your children to brush their teeth? Or popping into their room over and over and over to try to get them out of bed? Do mornings turn into yelling and screaming matches until your kids finally do what you ask? Or are you constantly having to up your threat level until they follow directions? If only your kids would listen and behave, right?
While this is typical of what I hear from many families, this does not have to be the norm.
The first step to transforming your mornings is to understand that kids only continue behaviors that work for them. Imagine that your child has two buckets, one for attention and one for power. Each day your child needs to hit their quota of positive attention and connection, and positive power. However, if these needs aren’t met in positive ways children will resort to negative ways to fill their buckets. They might whine, fight with their sibling, or stall getting out of bed knowing that this will give them a huge ‘hit’ of attention from you as you jump in to scold or help.
Now, they also need positive power which is a feeling of independence, autonomy, or sense of control. This is universal, and innate for all people no matter their age. But for kids, when they don’t feel a sense of age-appropriate, positive power in their days they start to act out to gain power. Usually this happens through behaviors that are the opposite of what you want them to do, but their ‘defiance’ or tantrums are ways for them to exert some control in their lives.
With this in mind, reflect on what a day in your child’s shoes might be like. Are there ample opportunities for them to gain positive attention from you, their siblings, their peers, their teachers? Are there ways in which they can demonstrate their independence and power in constructive ways? This is the key lens for viewing your child’s behaviors. What do they need more of and how can we help them get it?
Let’s circle back to the topic of mornings. To reduce the yelling and screaming, the endless 1 2 3 countdowns, and ever-increasing threats to get your children to comply, think about places you can incorporate positive attention and positive power. For a younger child this might look like offering two flavors of toothpaste and giving them a choice in which they use. Rather than a power struggle about if they will brush their teeth, which really isn’t an option, they immediately get a ‘hit’ of positive power in deciding the type of toothpaste. For older kids you may offer them a list of chores and allow them to pick which the handful they will help with for the week. Rather than exerting their power over if they will do chores, they can have some control over which ones they will choose.
Remember, your children have deep needs and it is through understanding these needs that we can help them better navigate their world, and make our own lives as parents easier along the way.