You know if you’re not out the door in the next 5 minutes you’ll be late…again. Your time is ticking and the more you rush them the slower they go. The dog is barking to be let out, you keep stepping in the sticky residue from the spilled orange juice earlier that morning, and your toddler is screaming because you dressed them in the wrong pair of underpants. On a good day, you pause, close your eyes, and take a deep breath saying to yourself “stay calm”. That brief moment gives you the patience you need to find the right pair of underpants, finish getting all kids dressed and loaded in the car.
We’ve all been there right? Mornings with kids can be chaotic. Just the thought of them can leave you cowering under your warm duvet refusing to face the ensuing madhouse. As adults, we have the self-regulation skills it takes to keep us relatively calm when faced with things like stressful, busy mornings. Although we might feel like crawling back into bed, we take a breath, and get done what we need to get done in order to get out the door and start our day. Kids on the other hand, especially our littlest ones, are still working on developing these skills and often need a helping hand. They rely on the caring adults in their lives to help them figure out the best way to manage all the big feelings and emotions they’re faced with on a daily basis. Self-regulation skills are a child’s ability to deal with stressors and then return to a calm and “regulated” state.
One way to help support our kids in developing these skills is by creating predictability in their lives. By putting in place strategies that help kids feel more in control of their circumstances and aware of what to expect, we are helping our kids learn to stay more relaxed, calm, and flexible through potentially challenging times. The best part is that creating more predictability for our kids can often help us as adults feel more in control and relaxed about things too. Wondering where to start? We’ve listed 4 easy steps to get you going:
Having consistent routines
We all know this one right? It’s pretty much a no brainer when you’re dealing with young kids. Even older kids, even adults! We all do better when we’re in our routines. Think about the most challenging times of your day with your kids, it might be the after school to dinner period, or the lunch to nap time. If you haven’t already, consider how you might create a more consistent routine around this period. Keeping in mind that it’s easier for kids to remember what is going to happen when it happens regularly, at the same time and in the same order every day.
Show & Tell
It’s easier for kids to remember visual information than it is auditory information, so instead of just talking to your kids about what the day is going to look like or what is going to happen during a particular part of the day, try showing them as well. Create a picture chart with images depicting the different parts of the day or event (photos work great, but printed pictures from a quick google search work just as well). For example, you might decide that your morning routine could use some extra support. You find a picture of a boy waking up, going to the bathroom, having breakfast, getting dressed, and brushing teeth. 5 pictures in total. You create a schedule using the pictures and hang it up in a high traffic area where your little one can easily see it. The night before you lead them through the schedule and have fun showing and explaining all the different steps. The next morning you revisit the schedule and walk your little one through each step, going back to the schedule whenever they need reminding of what comes next. You will be AMAZED at how quickly this new routine will sink in. An added bonus to the picture chart is that it helps create those consistent routines for the whole family (see #1 above).
Clear the clutter
The kids are in bed, the house is quiet, you sit down on the couch to enjoy a well-deserved glass of wine. Except, you look around and see legos, crayons, blocks, and every kitchen utensil you own, scattered everywhere. Can you really relax? Imagine how you feel when your space is “untidy”, disorganized, and you can’t find what you’re looking for. Your space feeling disorganized = you feel disorganized. Well, the same holds true for our kids. Visual clutter can be unsettling and make them feel out of sync.
Putting some effort into organizing and simplifying their play space can have a big impact. Try placing toys/belongings into bins or baskets, even creating labels and visual cues. If your child has a lot of toys you can try a rotating schedule where you store some toys away and rotate them out every one or two weeks.
By organizing, simplifying, and clearing the space of clutter you are helping your child to organize their brain, create a sense of calm, and feel more settled in their space.
This one is exactly as it sounds. Letting your child know ahead of time what is going to happen, what the expectations are and how everyone will be participating in the upcoming activity. The level of detail you go into depends on the age and understanding of your child. You’ll also begin to get a read for how much information your child needs. Some children need to know every detail in order to feel prepared while others find too much information overwhelming. Have your parenting radar on and you’ll soon be able to tweak your frontloading message to be the “just right” fit.
By supporting your kids in developing their ability to manage big feelings and self-regulate through stressful moments you’ll help them in becoming more calm, settled, and flexible thinking individuals. While there are many strategies to help develop healthy self-regulation skills, these 4 steps towards creating more predictability are a start towards making those rushed mornings feel a little less chaotic.
Collective Therapy are currently running a 4-week online class for families about self-regulation titled Ants in your Pants: A Parent’s Guide to Self-Regulation. Next class begins March 28th. Details and registration can be found on their website.
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