1. Have Compassion

Remember, kids would often rather stay home with mom and dad. It’s a lot of work to get out the door. It’s no fun to say goodbye to their favorite people. So if we can just name their experience, such as “I can tell you wish you could just stay home and watch this show. Sometimes I wish I could stay home, too.” This can help get us out of “drill sergeant” mode and instead, into making polite requests. Then, when they are doing what we want them to be doing, it’s better to notice and comment on that than it is to focus and nag about what we don’t want. Wherever we focus our attention is what we amplify.

2. Use Enforceable Statements

Instead of nagging and reminding school-aged kids of what they should or shouldn’t be doing, it’s more effective to say what we will do or allow or provide to them. If I say to my son, “Hurry up, we’ve got to go!”, I have no way of enforcing how fast he moves. In fact, commanding him to speed up is likely to make him slow down. Instead, I can say, “I’m getting in the car at 8:00. I charge $1/minute (or a chore/minute) to wait.” “Everyone who is in the car by 8:00 gets a ride to school for free!” is another option. Then, get in the car and start your timer. When your kid gets in the car, stop the timer, say nothing, set a reminder to charge him/her after schools and drive to school with no arguing. The two most important parts of this: 1) no arguing during the drive and 2) follow through and charge what you’ve said you’re going to charge.

3. A Little Bit of Playfulness Can Go a Long Way

I used to be so serious about getting my three three little boys out the door. Some days, the routine was exhausting and not much fun. My stress about it probably rubbed off on them. But on the good days when I could be playful instead of forceful about getting my strong-willed three year old dressed, everything changed. On my those days, I’d talk in a silly voice and “be the shoes looking for some tootsies” and chase him and tickle him as I slipped the shoes on his feet. He was happier, I was happier and those mornings went better. Never underestimate the power of playfulness in getting your kids’ cooperation.

4. Get Ready Before the Kids Get Rolling

I used to stay in bed until my kids crawled in with me. Then I’d get up and get ready while they did. Since I tend to run late more than I’d like to admit, this means I’d be in a rush and not very available to help them. A smart mom (Vicki, you know who you are!) told me that when she had a job before kids, she always got ready before she went to work. Duh. And once her job became being a mom, she still thought it was a good idea to get ready first so that she could give her kids positive attention in the mornings. She got up early, showered and read the paper before they even woke up. Yes, she may have missed out on a little sleep, but she also didn’t wear herself out battling with her kids and rushing around in the mornings.

5. Build in a Buffer

My mornings got so much calmer when I built in a buffer of time. If we had to leave at 8:30, I’d act like we had to leave at 8:15. If the kids were ready on time, they could earn the privilege of watching a show, or if I was ready on time too, I would read them a book or take them to the school playground early. Then, on the days we were late, we were only eating into the buffer instead of the actual time we had to be at school. This kept me so much calmer than if the kids were at risk of missing the bus or making me late. That dynamic never brought out the best in me.

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Kerry Stutzman, MSW, LMFT