Emily, what do I need to do to get out of the house on time in the morning when I have a strong willed child who argues with every direction I give to him to get ready for the day?
This question comes from a Disciplined Children reader, but it’s not uncommon for me to hear this question in my practice as well.
Since strong-willed children are not great at taking direction, getting out the door on time can be a challenge for most parents of strong-willed children unless they wake up 5 hours ahead of time to make time for all of the head butting that’s going to happen when he’s asked to get dressed, eat some food and brush his teeth.
What Your Morning Currently Looks Like
If you’re like most parents of a strong willed child, your morning typically looks something like this:
You’ve asked him to change his clothes, eat breakfast and brush his teeth…
He’s still lying in bed as if he never even heard you, or maybe his eyes are glued to a screen you told him he couldn’t play until he was was ready to head out the door.
You’re back in his room for the 5th time this morning, repeating the same demands (now turned into pleas) over and over again.
How many times do you have to ask him to get dressed before he’ll acknowledge that you’re talking to him?
Why does he think that passing this level on his DS is more important than anything else you’ve asked him to do?
The same thing happens every morning. Hasn’t he figured out by now that this is just what you expect of him in the morning?
What You Want the Morning to Look Like
Your goal is to have a more peaceful morning, one in which you can ask your child to get things accomplished and he will say, “Ok.” Or even better, a morning in which he knows what to do and does it without even having to be asked.
You won’t have to ask for what seems like the 100th time for him to brush his teeth or change his clothes, because he’ll know that it’s something that has to be done (or at minimum, he’ll do it the first time you ask him).
You might even have time to sit down and eat breakfast in peace! Well, OK, that might be pushing it. You’re a parent for goodness sake. Let’s be realistic!
Doesn’t that sound wonderful?
Of course it does. But is it even possible? And if so, how on earth do you go from the disaster that is your current morning routine to this dream that seems so out of reach?
3 Ways to Survive the Morning Routine with a Strong Willed Child
There are a few changes that you can make to your morning routine so that you and your strong willed kid (and the rest of your family) can get out of the door on time in the morning without arguments and incessant reminders.
#1 The Preview Technique
The most effective way to make the morning routine run smoother is to use The Preview Technique to discuss what the expectations are for the morning (both yours and his) and what the potential consequences could be if these expectations aren’t met.
[Don’t know what The Preview Technique is? Check out this technique, along with 8 other helpful tips for getting strong willed kids to listen in my free guide.]
The key in this adaptation of the technique is to ensure that you are focusing on his needs and his thoughts about the morning routine expectations instead of telling him what you think needs to happen and what consequences you’ll give to him.
Take the time to hear what your child thinks is important in the morning routine, such as playing on the iPad or grabbing a snack for the car ride to school. Listen to his ideas about what the consequences will be and only add natural consequences. This means no “If you don’t get a move on, I’m taking away the iPad for the day!” kind of statements.
Remember, it’s not about what you’re going to do to him, it’s about what happens to him if he continues to make these kinds of choices.
Now this technique is an awesome technique and it will help with your morning routine significantly. Unfortunately though, as you’re fully aware, just talking about something one time with your strong willed kid does not lead to lasting changes. This situation is going to be no different.
There are a few more things you’ll need to do when the morning comes to ensure a smoother morning together.
#2 Acknowledge Feelings and Needs
The number one mistake parents make that leads to a lack of action on the part of their strong willed child is forgetting to acknowledge the underlying feeling or reason why the child is doing what he’s doing (or in this case, not doing).
Instead of acknowledging a child’s need, parents typically give a laundry list of commands and become agitated when the child doesn’t comply instantly.
This leads to the parent giving out more commands, which are typically ignored by the child, only agitating the parent further and continuing an endless cycle of head butting (or worse, the strong willed child acts as if he hasn’t heard a word the parent has said).
Acknowledging the feeling or need that is causing the child’s disconnect with your expectations can make a world of difference. Here’s what it looks like:
I know you’re still feeling tired and don’t want to get moving yet. I don’t really want to be awake either. Why don’t you take a couple more minutes to finish waking up and then you can get started with the stuff that needs to get done before we leave for school.
I’m sorry that your favorite shirt isn’t clean yet. You love that shirt so much and I bet you were hoping to wear it today. I’ll try to get that cleaned for you tonight so you can wear it tomorrow on Show-N-Tell day, OK? Now let’s see if we can find another shirt that you’d be willing to wear today so we can finish the rest of the things on our list this morning.
Often times, just acknowledging that your child’s feelings matter is enough to get him moving onto the task at hand. Often times, but not always! You may need to use some consequences in the morning of The Preview Technique and a little empathy haven’t gone far enough to get him motivated to get out the door.
#3 Consequence with Empathy
If you decide that it’s time to use some consequences, you may also want to considering using an alternative to doling out consequences and instead show your child that you respect their feelings as they relate to consequences.
When setting limits and providing consequences, parents are often quick to make threats of taking things away or imposing some sort of punishment.
(If this is you, don’t worry. You’re in good company. It’s very hard to come up with natural consequences and coming up with threats comes so much easier to us during those stressful moments. Everyone is working on this together here!).
Instead of imposing consequences on the child, acknowledge that you care about his feelings and don’t want a consequence to have to happen to him.
Here are some examples to show you what I mean:
I know how much you love to play on the iPad before we leave in the morning but with the way things are going this morning, it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be time for you to play on it before we leave. We only have 30 minutes until we need to leave. If you get a move on, you might have a few minutes to play.
Notice how this action acknowledges the child’s desire for iPad time and uses it in an encouraging way, versus threatening to take the iPad away or promising iPad as a reward for good behavior.
Here is another example…
We’ve been late for daycare every day this week and you’ve had to miss breakfast at daycare. Today it’s French toast! If we can get out the door in the next 10 minutes, we should make it to daycare in time for breakfast. If not, then it’s another Go Gurt in the car. You like them both, but French toast is your favorite!
Again, notice that there are no threats to miss out on French toast, just the natural consequence about arriving on time if he wants to enjoy the meal that is being served.
At that point, the ball is in his court and he’ll decide whether or not to get moving.
In my experience, when consequences are presented in this way, the child feels like you actually care and want good things for him. He doesn’t feel threatened by you and therefore doesn’t feel the need to fight back. He realizes that you actually wants the same thing as he does, not that you want to make his life miserable by bossing him around.
When a consequence is framed in this way and is very natural like this, he’s learning how his actions (or lack thereof) have consequences regardless of if you’re there to witness it (and give the consequence) or not.
These 3 tips will help you to get out the door in the morning with your #strongwilledchild. #parenting #child Click To Tweet
But Emily, I’m acknowledging his feelings and this still isn’t working. I talk about how the consequences are going to affect him and he still doesn’t listen. What else can I do to get him to listen better?
This is a statement I hear a lot. A parent tells me that they’ve tried it and it isn’t working, so now what? What’s the next quick tip to try to see if it gets him to listen?
When I hear this, my first response is to ask the parent to give me an example. Unfortunately, the example usually sounds something like this…
Wow, all you have done is complain this morning. I’m being so nice to you and all you do is complain, complain, complain. Say goodbye to the iPad because you just lost that.
[Child throws a fit]
Hey, this isn’t my fault. You chose to be a slowpoke and argue with everything. Maybe next time you’ll remember how you feel right now and think long and hard before you disobey me!
This is NOT an example of acknowledging the child’s feelings. Yes, the child’s feelings were sort of discussed. However, there was no acceptance of the feeling, just the use of the child’s feelings to prove the parent’s point.
This is a bad example of acknowledging feelings and a great example of adding fuel to an already raging fire.
If you’ve tried this tip and haven’t found much success with it, first take a step back. Review how you accepted the child’s feelings before stating that it just doesn’t work and you need something else.
If you’ve tried acknowledging your child’s feelings and behaviors haven’t improved, leave a comment in the comments section with how you acknowledged your child’s feelings honestly and the result that you received. If you notice that you’re hesitating to write what you said to your child, that might be a sign that you haven’t quite developed the skill yet and it simply needs more practice, but you’ll get there!