Losing my cool every morning

Dear Jenny Hale

We have a very clever eight year old, but his behaviour in the mornings is ruining my day (and his no doubt). Like all children, he is well aware of the tasks he has to do in the morning to get out the door – teeth, hair, uniform, shoes. But when Matthew is sent to clean his teeth, we find him dancing in front of the mirror 10 minutes later. When we ask him to get his shoes and socks on, we find him playing Star Wars with his brother Alex (who is all ready to go). This goes on day after day! Even when I look him in the eyes and tell him it’s time to get ready and leave, he will agree, then walk away and start doing something completely different. I make breakfast and pack the school bags. The only thing Matthew has to do is to get himself ready. I end up getting frustrated and angry, and yelling. I have tried the rational approach – the bedtime talk about being part of the team in the mornings and doing his bit. We’ve even tried star charts. I am sick of losing my cool so early in the day and having him go to school with my angry words ringing in his ears. I really have run out of ideas!

Jenny’s tips

Looks like the time has come to bring in some firmer consequences! Matthew is clearly okay with the status quo. He may not be enjoying the shouting and tension, but he’s not motivated to change much at all. He is leaving the hard work to you. So, it is time to turn the tables. Nothing is going to change if he knows that you will remind him, bother, coax and yell at him and ultimately take responsibility for him. Every family needs to ‘reset’ things to establish a new pattern. Explain to Matthew that what is happening every morning is simply not working. You don’t like all the shouting and it is time for him to ‘own’ the job of getting ready.

Tell him what you will offer and write it down. Mum will – wake you up, have brekkie ready, give you one reminder, and let you know what time the car is leaving. Then get in the car at the right time. This is where it gets inconvenient. Either you have someone at home who can mind Matthew while you run Alex to school, or you get out your flask of coffee in the car and wait for him to arrive. Let the teacher know that this is what is happening and encourage her to follow up with consequences for his lateness. Arrive at school late – without a lecture on the way! In fact, if you can stay emotionally supportive, the greater the chance you have of this lesson being more meaningful. This support would sound something like this, “Matthew, I am sorry that you are going to be late for your class today. I know you don’t like being late and that it won’t be easy walking in”.

What is important here is setting up consequences for actions – not punishment, but simple follow-through. Matthew needs to face outcomes, not lectures and words. At times it will mean something to him and at other times it will seem to go over his head. Your job is to stay calm and firm and sit on your hands when you see him heading for a consequence.

The outcome

This family changed the pattern for getting ready for school in the morning. With the school on side and Matthew’s teacher ready to be firm and stern, the new system took hold. It was decided that Matthew’s brother Alex, who was ready most days, would be escorted to his classroom and the explanation given to his teacher. However, Matthew was expected to front up himself and the teacher would set the consequences.

Jane, Matthew’s mum, followed the plan. He got the reminder to get sorted, followed by a call that the car would be waiting and ready to leave when he was inside it. Jane acted exactly as she said she would and her words were, “It’s a miracle! Matthew rose to the challenge from day one and for the last two weeks we have left the house on time, but more importantly there is no stressful morning yelling!

“By the way, Matthew has never looked back. Since that first day, as unbelievable as this may sound, he has never been late for school and I have never yelled in the house on school mornings since… Well, unless it’s at his younger brother for spitting on his toast!”