Sunday, May 13, 2007

Morning Problems


I have read your book, Positive Discipline, cover to cover, and have searched your website in the FAQ about morning routine problems but could not find a solution to a certain situation. I have a problem with my 7 year old daughter that I can't solve, and can't find advice for.

Andrea is not a morning person. She is usually cranky when she needs to get up for school. I used to wake her up myself, which usually took many attempts just to rouse her, and then I would have to keep going to her room to check if she was up. Usually she would be back in bed or on the floor sleeping. I bought her an alarm clock so she could be more responsible about the whole thing, but she sleeps right through it, when I can hear it downstairs loud and clear. I'm serious, I've allowed that thing to ring for 40 minutes and she WILL NOT get up to turn it off. I'm so sick of nagging, the trips up to her room, the struggles. When I eventually get her up she is ANGRY with ME. She is hostile, verbally abusive, and will hold up the rest of the family while we wait for her to get ready. I know she is getting enough sleep, at least 9 to 10 hours per night. Please give me suggestions.


I’m surprised that we haven’t answered a similar question because so many parents are experiencing the same frustration with morning problems. I did when my children were young. Since you read the Positive Discipline book, you are familiar with the mistaken goal chart and can make a guess about the mistaken way to find belonging and significance. If you are feeling irritation, annoyed, worried, or guilty, chances are that her mistaken goal is "Undue Attention". If you are feeling challenged, provoked, or defeated (which is what it sounds like in your e-mail), chances are that her mistaken goal is "Misguided Power." However, her mistaken goal could be "Revenge" - if you are feeling hurt, disappointed, disgusted. I doubt that her goal is "Assumed Inadequacy". Understanding the mistaken goal can help you understand the most effective approach. Let’s assume her mistaken goal is "Misguided Power", where her coded message is, "You can’t make me." The other piece of information that is helpful is to know that she wants to feel belonging (connection) and significance and is choosing a "mistaken" way to achieve this. Now, what to do???

First let’s focus on how to create a sense of belonging and connection. One way to do this is to admit that you can’t make her get up in the morning. Be sure to say this in a kind and friendly way - not as an accusation. Then ask for her help. Sit down (during a calm time) and have fun brainstorming possible solutions with her. Using you sense of humor to start the brainstorming can create a fun and inviting atmosphere. You might suggest things such as finding a band (with lots of drums) to come wake her up every morning, hiring horses to come drag her out of bed, inventing a feather waker upper - a machine with feathers attached that will tickle her face until she gets out of bed. Then you could start on the more serious possibilities by asking her, "What would work for you?" If she says, "I don’t know," (which is very typical), say, "You are such a good thinker and problem-solver. I have faith in you that you can think of some good solutions. Why don’t we take a break for 10 minutes while you think about it and then come back to our brainstorming." I have no idea what she will come up with that would be helpful to her, but you could suggest some of the things you have already tried (such as an alarm clock). You might be surprised at how much more effective it will be if she chooses it.

Once she has chosen a solution, it is very important for you to the stay out of the picture. (If the suggestion she chooses is for you to wake her up with a hug and a kiss, do that once and then stay out of the picture. I used to take long showers so I wouldn’t be tempted nag or interfere.) Allow her to experience the consequences of her choice to stay in bed. You can go over these in advance. Perhaps the consequence is that she will be late for school - and has to deal with her teacher or the school (without your interference). (Notice that this is something that happens without you "imposing" it.) Perhaps it is that she will miss the bus and have to walk. This can be combined with deciding what you will do. One parent said, "I’m not willing to drive you to school when you miss the bus, but I will follow you (either on foot or in the car) to make sure you are safe while you walk.) Perhaps the consequence is that she has to stay home from school (either with you or with a child-care person) if she wakes up too late. (Now is a good time to do this, because 7-year-olds usually like school and don’t want to miss.) It is important to avoid turning this into a punishment by saying she has to stay in her room and can’t do anything fun. It is okay to say, "This is my time and I’m not willing to entertain you - and I’m sure you’ll be able to get up on time tomorrow so you won’t have to miss school again."

I’m sure you have found other suggestions in the book, such as having her create her own bedtime and morning routine charts where you have taken pictures of her doing each task on her list, and letting her paste the picture next to the written task. The key here is having her create her own chart. It is okay to do it with her, but not for her. The other key is to be both kind and firm in whatever interactions you have with her.

Another thing that can be very effective is to set up a daily special time with your daughter - one that is on the calendar for a specific time slot. Many parents find that this solves problems, even when they don’t deal directly with the problem because it helps the child feel the belonging (connection) and significance that is their primary goal in life.

Best wishes, Jane Nelsen

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