First, regardless of a child’s age, think about what can be done the night before such as making lunches, taking showers, organizing backpacks, and laying out clothes. Talk with your kids as to what needs to get done in the morning. “It’s great to have these discussions when cooler heads are prevailing and we can really problem solve about how to get things done in an efficient way,” Dr. Anderson says.
Parents of younger kids need to focus on being clear about what needs to get done, helping them develop this list into good habits. This can be accomplished by noticing when a child is successful, then praising him for those successes. It’s also helpful to break tasks down into very small steps and then noting how well the child is trying to comply or do things independently.
Those with older kids could help them develop an organizational plan—a list they could check back on to make sure each step is completed. “We’re all more effective when we’re very clear with ourselves about what steps we might need to take and realistic about what we actually have time to get done,” he says.
Dr. Anderson also says it’s a good idea for parents to prioritize the essential steps—what must get done—vs. the “icing on the cake” steps, at least at first.
Exactly what is essential? “The reality is often that the child at least has all of his clothes on, has something in his stomach, and has brushed his teeth,” he says. “If we can get those three things done somehow, either before the child leaves or on the way to school, and reinforce the child’s progress, then we can start to build those habits and make it so that mornings are easier in the future.”
Once the essential steps become habit, parents can focus on the “icing,” which can include things like a child keeping his hands to himself around a sibling, making his bed and organizing his things.
Use visual prompts
Dr. Anderson says that especially for younger kids who are on the autism spectrum or have ADHD, “we absolutely want to make it so that any behaviors we’ve defined as target behaviors are also prompted visually so that they can remember and, over time, start to independently do them.” Visual prompts might include posted schedules and photos of targeted behaviors, such as a picture of a child brushing her teeth near the sink.
With typically developing children , the amount of visualization needed varies: “There are kids who only need their parents to give instructions verbally and then they can usually remember them and follow through. Certain kids need either more reminders or time to form these habits,” notes Dr. Anderson.
When parents hit bumps in the road and tempers are flaring, they need to think about ways to deescalate the situation, since arguing is a distraction and can damage their relationship with their kids, as well as slow things down even more. There are several ways parents can try to deescalate a situation, such as:
- Speaking in a calm tone
- Being clear about expectations
- Continuing to praise even small efforts rather than focusing on what the child might not be doing
- Focusing on the next step in the process
- Keeping one’s eye on the prize, both in the short and long terms.
It also helps to accept that at least in the short term, things might not be perfect but that by sticking to behavioral strategies, they can improve.