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Winning the Wake-Up War

Liz Peters
North Carolina USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, p. 29

For families with school-age children, the wake-up war can be one of the most challenging aspects of parenthood. Who would've thought that getting a child to school on time could be so hard?

I try to be a sensitive mother. But I found that cajoling, whining, and sometimes even shouting were happening with increased regularity at my house on school mornings. It was time for a change. Then I remembered the session on discipline I had attended at the 2000 La Leche League of North Carolina Conference. Rifling through the stack of papers on my desk, I found the session handouts: "Keeping the Guidance in Loving Guidance" by Diane Beckman.

There, in Diane's sample problem analysis, I found an example that hit close to home. "Mornings are maddening. I feel like a shrew by the time Mark (age four) is dressed. No matter how many times I remind him, he is never ready on time. I always end up helping. As long as I am there, he concentrates; as soon as I am gone, he gets distracted." Bingo. There was my life. Now, how to fix it?

Diane had pulled the sample problem from the book, Without Spanking or Spoiling by Elizabeth Crary. She listed Crary's suggestions. First, describe the problem. In my case, as in her example, my child was not ready to go to school on time. Next, gather data and record observations of the issue. If I did not sit with my son, directing his movements, he would become distracted and be late for school.

My goal was that he get ready for school on his own and be ready on time. Was that so unreasonable? Well, perhaps it was, I learned. Diane pointed out that the average age when children can dress themselves when reminded or supervised is five years old. The average age they dress without reminders is over 10 years old (Pick Up Your Socks by Elizabeth Crary). This means that 50 percent of 10-year-olds still can't do what I was expecting my five-year-old to do on his own. Maybe it was unreasonable for me to lie snugly in bed while my child got dressed on his own on a cold, dark morning.

It was time to review the alternatives. The first option was to change the parent's attitude, according to Diane. I could change my own expectations -- I would sit with him, since children usually need support. Second, I could change my frame of reference -- I would enjoy sitting with him because all too soon he wouldn't want me "butting in" his life. Or third, I could change my outlook and reinforce the positive -- I would look for what he had done and praise it, rather than harping on what he had not done. For example, when I went in his room and saw that he just had on one sock, I could say, "I'm glad you've started putting on your socks," rather than "I can't believe it has taken you 20 minutes to put on one sock!"

Other helpful reminders included changing your schedule -- dress your child the night before in what he will wear to school, said Diane. He may be wrinkled, but he'll be on time. Don't forget the value of both logical and natural consequences, she added, "Either dress yourself by 7:30 am, or I will dress you." Or, "Dress yourself by 7:30 am, or you will go to school in your pajamas." That tactic might not work with some children who would happily stroll up to class in their Power Ranger pajamas, but for my son it was quite effective.

More than any threats, though, I think what really made the difference in our family was my own change in attitude. I realized that I could wake up a little earlier if my presence really was needed. Over time, we learned a few other tricks that helped, as well. We made sure he was getting to bed on time so he wasn't too sleepy to function in the morning. We also began having him select his clothes the night before. This helped us avoid those frantic, last-minute searches for clean underwear. I also learned to bite my tongue about my son's clothing choices. He would happily wear a red-and-green-striped shirt, orange shorts, and black Scooby Doo socks. Surely the teacher will realize he dressed himself, I decided.

And although we don't always agree on style, by the end of the year my son was able to dress himself independently on a fairly regular basis. As we learned earlier with breastfeeding, if you meet a need, the need goes away. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of the basics. Often, it helps to review material we've obtained through La Leche League.

Last updated Wednesday, October 25, 2006 by njb.
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