8 ways to make morning transitions (with kids!) go more smoothly

Recently I’ve found that the best way to get my kids (ages 2.5 and 4.5) to play nicely together is to announce that it’s time to get in the car.

I’ve never seen anything like it. The second I call out “socks and boots!”, they dive right into a game of Restaurant or Trapping Imaginary Monsters or Let’s-Pretend-These-Empty-Laundry-Baskets-Are-Boats. It’s cute and all, but it’s a little maddening too. Where is all this goodwill when I want them to entertain themselves on a random weekend afternoon?? And once they’re engaged in a game, it is even harder to move them through space.

This issue of how best to shepherd kids through the morning and get them out the door has been a common theme across my therapy sessions in recent weeks. Some people get irritable and end up shouting at their children, and then feel bad about it later; others maintain calm but are chronically late (and therefore frustrated/in need of a solution). Either way, it highlights the inherent stress that mornings generate for so many families.

With all that in mind, I’ve compiled some tips for a smoother morning departure. A lot of these pertain more to younger kids, but many can be adapted to older children as well:

    1. Set a timer. Kids often respond better to an external alert that is not you. An alarm grabs their attention more effectively than your voice, especially if you change the sound periodically (“when you hear the ducks quacking, it will be time to get your shoes on!”) It also shifts the authority onto your phone or kitchen timer, which can take some of the emotional “charge” out of the interaction and prevent a power struggle from developing.
    2. Have a routine. Make sure your kids know how the morning will unfold and what they’re expected to do, especially if something is going on that will disrupt the usual routine. It’s really helpful to do things in the same order each day so that your kids can start to move on autopilot a little bit. A white board or piece of paper on the fridge with a checklist can be a fun, interactive tool and can help kids keep track of where they are in the sequence of events.
    3. Allow them to make some choices. Kids of all ages do better when they feel like they have some control over their environment and their life. You might let them pick their own clothes, their own snack for the car, or the song or podcast on the way to school. Save the authoritative determinations for when you really need them (like setting and enforcing the time of departure). If you find yourself saying no all morning long, your kids may be less cooperative overall.
    4. Leave enough time. This seems obvious, but it really is true that rushing around creates a lot of unnecessary stress. We often think we can accomplish more than is possible in the time we have. If your child is a slow eater, or has particular trouble with transitions, you need to budget a realistic amount of time for the whole routine. You may be surprised how much it helps to get yourself (or even your kids) up 15 minutes earlier.
    5. Help them transition whatever they’re doing to the car if possible. If they’re engrossed in a book or a writing project or a game, see if there’s a way to continue this in the car in some modified fashion. You might give them a clipboard so they can keep doodling, or allow them to choose one toy to bring with them in the car. Even if they’re not in the middle of something, inviting younger children to pick out a toy to bring with them can ease the transition and prevent meltdowns.
    6. Be specific with requests. Saying “let’s go!” over and over again is not as effective as “It’s time to get your socks and boots on, and then we’ll walk out to the car together.”
    7. Make it into a game. For older children, you might try timing how long it takes them to accomplish their tasks, or finding another way to incentivize their cooperation. Maybe it’s a coin in a jar for every morning they go through their checklist without reminders, and at the end of the week they can trade in the coins for a reward.
    8. Communicate with your partner. If you have a partner who’s also part of the morning scrum, make sure he or she is on board with planning the routine. Assign/take jobs based on logistical considerations and/or your strengths. And make sure things feel equitable, or you may find yourself seething with resentment — a behind-the-scenes stressful emotion that can increase irritability and decrease patience.



What challenges do you face when trying to get out the door? What works for you? Shoot me an e-mail and let me know.



The power of Wise Mind

In my women’s dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) group, we’ve been discussing the simple but powerful concept of Wise Mind.

In DBT we talk about three main mind states: Reasonable Mind, Emotion Mind, and Wise Mind.

If you’re a healthcare professional, Reasonable Mind will be very familiar to you. It’s likely where you are when you’re seeing patients, especially if you work in a discipline like emergency medicine or surgery in which decisions have to be made quickly. When you’re in Reasonable Mind, you get sh*t done. You’re logical, rational and focused on facts. Your own emotions are not in play. There’s no space for them.

Emotion Mind is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s the blazing fire to Reasonable Mind’s cool, placid lake. In Emotion Mind, you’ll find yourself in an impulsive, passionate place. You may say things you don’t mean or do things without thinking them through. Choices made in Emotion Mind are driven by anger, sadness, desperation, euphoria — you name it. Your ability to reason and apply logic are nowhere to be found.

Wise Mind is the balanced blend of both. When you’re in Wise Mind, you have excellent judgment. Wise Mind allows you to stay connected to your feelings (important, because your feelings give you critical messages and information) while simultaneously accessing your logic and reasoning. You can be compassionate, empathic and authentic. You are aware of the needs and emotions within yourself and of others, and aware of what’s in your own best interest, of what makes the most sense. It’s an integrative place — a synthesis of intuition and facts.

Making decisions, having difficult conversations, expressing your feelings, asking for things, managing crises…pretty much any interpersonal situation you can think of will be better if it comes from Wise Mind.

Getting to Wise Mind and staying there consistently takes practice. One of the main building blocks for accessing Wise Mind is cultivating a basic awareness of your thoughts and feelings. It sounds simple, but many of us do not have this awareness. If I were to ask you right now how you’re feeling, there’s a chance you’d stammer and say, “Um…let’s see…I don’t know? Fine? OK? Nothing? I’m just reading an e-mail!”

You might try asking yourself how you’re feeling a bit more often, just to see what comes up. What do you notice in your body? What thoughts do you have when you’re feeling peaceful, frustrated, depleted? (An important distinction: Thoughts are sentences in your mind; emotions are one word. Examples of thoughts: “I want pizza for dinner,” “I can’t seem to stay caught up at work,” “Am I a good mom?” Examples of emotions: content, relaxed, angry, sad, furious, betrayed, untrusting, despairing.)

You can also learn a lot from reflecting on times when you’ve been in Wise Mind. Even if you tend more toward Reasonable Mind or Emotion Mind, chances are you’ve had some experiences of being in Wise Mind, when you are in tune with yourself and others. What was going on that allowed you to inhabit this space?

If you’d like more support around any/all of this (coping with endless winter, identifying emotions, accessing Wise Mind…) e-mail me or give me a call: 585-568-7044.