Why you need Time "IN" before Time "OUT"


Every morning I get up early so that I am ready for the day before my five year old daughter Anna wakes up.  Why?  Because once she’s awake, I never know how the morning will go.  She gets up in a good mood (and yes, she’s going to bed early) and everything is fine until it’s time to get dressed and have breakfast before school.  Every step can be a struggle, and she often either ignores me or talks back.  I’ve tried star charts for good behavior and taking away privileges for bad, but most mornings are still awful. I don’t have time to do anything else, because a Time Out just gets us off track. She’s not this way with anyone but me. Help!

I could answer your question in a lot of different ways, but it sounds like you’ve already done some good thinking, reading, and planning about your morning struggles.  Anna is getting a good night of sleep, you are getting organized the night before and before she gets up, and you’ve already used behavioral strategies like charts, rewards, and punishments. 

I noticed you said: “I don’t have time to do anything else, because a Time Out just gets us off track. She’s not this way with anyone but me” and I wonder if that is a key to solving your morning struggles.

The big challenge for families today is time.  Parents’ work schedules, kids’ school and after school activities, weekend outings, sports, birthday parties, special occasions, all make for lives that are shortchanged for time.  In my work, I often see children and parents who are locked into battles that take up much of their precious time at home.  Parents are exhausted by the battles and don’t understand why they have to engage in them day after day.

I have a theory (not original, but I think about this a lot!) that what children want and need most from their parents is a feeling of connection.  Most of their daily needs can be met by others, but the quality of close, intertwined connection between a parent and her child can’t be met by anyone except a parent.  And yet, once children are beyond the early years and can play independently without constant supervision, they often get very little close, uninterrupted time with their parents.

I call this connection time “Time IN” (or Special Time) because it is the time that provides pleasure to both parent and child.  Many children don’t get much Time IN, because so much has to get done during the time they are with parents.  The only time a child feels the parent is fully engaged with them is during an argument, a negotiation, or a full out battle.  And the problem makes their relationship worse, because a worn out or frustrated parent doesn’t feel like giving her child pleasure, she just wants to end the interaction.  Sound familiar?

Mornings are especially tough because besides the time deadlines, your child has to leave HOME, and home is probably the place she loves best, just as her parents are the people she loves best.

So my suggestion is to spend a week of your time (that’s all it will take) to change up your patterns.  I would like you to try give Anna the best gift, time every day--time when she gets your full attention, without distraction (yes, no phone).  Does that seem crazy?  It’s not, because the time you need is only 15 minutes a day.  If you are thinking “Where am I going to get 15 minutes?” I can tell you where--after a week you’ll be saving at least 15 minutes every day by not having as many battles with Anna.

The 15 minutes are called Anna’s Special Time and this is how the time looks:  The two of you, hanging out in her room or anywhere private, doing an activity together that she enjoys.  That can be extra reading time, playing a board game, playing with toys, anything that doesn’t involve a screen. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and at the end of the time, tell her that you have some other things to do, but you’ll have Special Time again the next day.  And then keep your promise!

By the way, you have probably heard the common advice: “Children misbehave because they aren’t getting enough positive attention for good behavior. So catch them being good and let them know that you notice when they are being cooperative!”  That advice is certainly true at times.  However, what I am describing is more than simple behavior modification.  I am encouraging building a deeper connection, one that is already there but often does not get reinforced on a daily basis.

That’s it--The goal is to replace conflict with connection, and it will work.  In one week your mornings will be much more pleasant, I promise.