Is it just me or are mornings a time when you want to hit your head against the wall, or maybe your kids’ heads, and call time and announce a restart of the day? And then if it is a school or preschool day and we have to be somewhere by a certain time it is even worse.
And as the mother do you find that you are struggling with getting things ready for everyone? Clothes on, lunches packed, reading books for school… who needed something extra today?!? And then you need to get dressed yourself!
Our son has a pattern which absolutely must happen each morning. We have now got to variations of the pattern, but it needs to happen nonetheless. Once he wakes, he needs to have cuddles. Without our day beginning with cuddles, it is a much more difficult day. It has been suggested that it is a sensory thing – maybe he needs the deep pressure touch of snuggles to start his day right. Now please understand that I have no problems starting my day with snuggles! It is a wonderful thing to have a child who wants to cuddle down in bed with you, and drink some milk [yes we still have to have a bottle in the morning… we have become accustomed to the weirdness of a 5 year old drinking from a bottle].
BUT… he doesn’t always wake before we get out of bed.
So on those days we have to find ways to compromise. This morning I managed to have snuggles on the couch with him. He certainly tried to get me back to bed, and believe me it was a tempting proposition since I am full of cold! But it would have meant disasters for us getting to school on time.
Things that began as lovely cute morning cuddles when he always woke before 6am have turned into mini tyrants that can derail our whole day.
These are the things that I mean when I talk about the need to be organised and yet very flexible to maintain calm in our house.
I value calm.
I believe it is essential.
And I don’t think it is unrealistic to have calm while having kids.
Ok, I can hear you all laughing hysterically from over here right now!!! Yes, it is not the same kind of calm as if there are no children! But as a mother of a child who can have epic meltdowns, I know that it is possible and absolutely vital for me that we have a calm house.
Do you know the difference? I bet you do…
Think about it. The difference between the quiet of kids happily playing… and the quiet of the quote my husband likes from “Shrek 1” namely: “It’s quiet… TOO quiet…”
The calm and quiet of good constructive playtime is my kind of calm to have with kids. I do not care if there are toys out everywhere, and lines of cars along my window ledges, and alphabet and number patterns along the floor until you literally have to hop to walk anywhere. These things are easily tidied up with my super patented system of “scoop it into its box”. [Lame joke alert there. I couldn’t be bothered applying for the patent. ;)] I know that mess is not calming. I know that kids are not quiet. But there is a calm to peaceful contented activity that I, for one, would actually pay for. I have certainly worked hard to make it possible as often as I can in our house.
So that is why I find ways to snuggle my boy when he wakes up. For him, it starts the day right. My daughter certainly needs to be greeted with love and affection. At 4 years old she also wants a cuddle on waking. But she copes if the cuddle is while we stand in the kitchen. Different kids need different things.
Oh my how they need different things!
I remember smiling as my husband told people about how amazing it was to find the right piece of music to get a beat for a sway with rocking our son to sleep. As a man who literally did not know how to hold a new-born when our son was born, he had a steep learning curve that he climbed really quickly with a lot of courage. Our son was extremely difficult from birth, unlike some kids with autism who seem to develop normally and then go backwards. But I knew that there were likely some kids who would not do as well to the music-swaying-please-will-you –just-go-to-sleep routine.
Enter our daughter. [14months later I might add. We certainly had not forgotten any of the lessons we had just learned.]
He just could not find the piece of music that had the right beat for her to be willing to be rocked to sleep… although I have memories of several Dolly Parton songs that will always make me feel somewhat anxious as a result of his trials. [For what it is worth, our son fell asleep to Irish Riverdance style music. We cannot take him to a performance ever since we are sure it would make him sleep!]
We learned the hard way that kids need different things since they are wired differently. And we learned to be kind to ourselves and to each other while we learned!
Meanwhile, these days we are still working on helping our son with flexibility. So having him have his morning snuggles on the couch this morning was a good step in that direction.
After snuggles and milk, it is time to take a shower. This kid must shower morning and night. If we had a bath in this new house, he would bath at night and shower in the morning. I blame my mother for this tendency to showering. He picked it up while we were staying with them in between houses. But only mildly since it is actually usually reasonably helpful!
Did you know that transition from one activity to the next activity can be a source of anxiety to some kids? Especially those on the spectrum? Yes, well it means that getting into the shower can be hard and getting out of the shower can be hard, and getting clothes on can be hard since you are moving from having a towel to being clothed… So that is why we have our routine so that he always knows what the next is going to be, and exactly how it is going to happen. SO he knows that when snuggles have finished then it is shower time. Which means we go into the bathroom and take pajamas off and then turn on the shower, and then get in. Too much detail? Not for him. We can’t turn on the shower and then take off pajamas. Wrong order. [And yes we are working on teaching him that the order can change and life will still be ok!]
I actually think that most kids do better when they have each step broken down into this kind of detail while they are learning to do things for themselves. It has helped my daughter, who is naturally incredibly independent. Preschoolers can be frustrating. But if we take the time to break things down into small steps and show them the order, we give them the ability to do it for themselves quicker. I am certainly big on independence!
So we also have steps that we take for getting out of the shower. I cannot announce that the shower is over and turn off the water. That results in less calm and more chaos! So we count down and then the shower is over. Countdown is currently from 20.
Then there needs to be time to huddle in the towel. Drying tends to happen a bit more naturally while the huddling happens. Then we move into the next room to put on clothes. I lay out clothes the night before, usually while the kids are in the shower! It is then an easy routine for me to make sure it has been done, and I never forget since it is a habit.
I’m sure it will not surprise you that there is an order to putting on clothes! But since most of us do have our own ways of doing these things, that is not too hard to work with.
But coz I know the order, I lay it out that way. Underwear on the very top, with socks underneath, then a vest if it’s cold, then top… you get the idea. You probably put clothes on yourself fairly often…!
Once clothes are on I try to interest the kids in some food. This is easier if the food is on the table and they can SEE it. They are definitely more likely to eat if they can see it.
If there is time they have a short playtime before we have to get shoes on and into the car for school.
Remember how I said transitions are hard for kids on the spectrum? Yeah, well letting them go play means another transition.
SO I have a cunning plan.
Together we chose a cool song on my phone to be our “shoe song”. I control when the “shoe song” will play. And after only a few practices, the kids now know that when they hear the “shoe song” they have to stop what they are doing and come to the front door to get shoes and anything else they need on, ready to get in the car.
I think this is much easier than Michael McIntrye trying to get out the door with his kids. [Have you seen any of his stuff?? Very English, very funny, very accurate!]
So there you are. How we manage our mornings with less struggles and more smiles.
This is what you could take from this story if you want to try a more peaceful morning:
- Learn what makes your child start their day well… and make sure it happens!
- Plan out the aspects that can be planned. Lay out clothes the night before. Make sure lunchboxes are ready and pack them with whatever can be packed beforehand, eg fruit or crackers.
- Do what you can to make it calm for yourself, so that you can be calm with them as they be kids… which means they get distracted every 5 seconds!
What would you add to this list?