Preschoolers are ready to learn about responsibility. They can take on chores and are often eager to please, but they need training in order to develop the necessary skills. Getting ready in the morning is often a great training time for children. They can learn to complete assignments, manage themselves, and take initiative to get things done.
Unfortunately, parents sometimes miss training opportunities by doing more for kids than is necessary and by allowing them to rely too much on parental prodding in order to move forward. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your morning experience whether you are all headed out the door or if you are home for the day.
Take some time and sit down with your child and explain the plan for the morning. If you have a specific time to be out the door, explain that as part of the challenge. If you aren’t leaving the house, set a time and help kids understand that you are moving along toward a goal and a clock is part of the motivation. Even though most preschoolers can’t read a clock, they do understand the urgency associated with a time crunch.
Next, identify the tasks that your child needs to get done including getting dressed, putting pajamas away, eating breakfast, and taking care of bathroom things like combing hair and brushing teeth. You might also want to add things like making the bed, feeding the dog, and cleaning up the breakfast dish.
We are on a Mission
Teach your child that, in the mornings, we’re on a mission to be ready for our day. That means that the primary job in the morning is to complete the tasks, help others do the same, and be ready to go out the door or to start the day’s events. Some children believe that their primary goal in the morning is to watch TV, play with toys, or go back to sleep. In part, you’re changing the beliefs that a child has for mornings, but you’re also helping your child develop the early foundations of responsibility. You can define responsibility in a number of practical ways for kids but basically it’s an uncomfortable feeling that I have a task to complete before I’m free. The way you handle morning times can help your child develop that discomfort associated with maturity.
Don’t use yelling to accomplish activities in the morning. Raising your voice increases a different feeling of discomfort and it’s unnecessary and counterproductive. Instead, view the mornings as small missions of responsibility, each one focusing on a reasonable task. One way to increase responsiveness is to get close to a child before giving the instruction. It does little good to tell a child to get his shoes on while he’s engrossed in cartoons or his favorite game. It’s better to call the child over first before you give the assignment. You might get close to a child, obtain eye contact, and say, “Al, it’s time to get your shoes on. Please go get your shoes and bring them to me and report back.” When you require your child to report back, you’re developing accountability, an important part of responsibility training.
When Al returns, offer encouraging words and then have him put his shoes on right there near you and report back. Then continue the tasks until you’ve made it through your list. Work through the same process of calling the child over, giving the task, and requiring the child to inform you that the assignment is done. Start with basic self-care and then move to other chores and ways that your child can contribute to the family such as making sure the bathroom is orderly or that the dog has food.
When the child has completed the required assignments then it’s important to release him by saying something like, “You’ve done a good job. We have about 15 minutes of free time before we walk out the door. You can now enjoy your toys for a bit. I’ll let you know when it’s time to clean them up so that we can leave.” The release you give your child is an important part of responsibility training. You not only want the child to feel the discomfort of an unfinished task, but you also want to encourage the feeling of freedom when the tasks are complete.
As your child develops more responsibility then you’ll want to add initiative to the training process. Initiative helps children be more independent and not rely on the parent to provide the continual prompters to move forward. You might create a chart that a child checks off each morning. Now your words change from small missions of responsibility to calling for quick updates of accountability. “Al, please come and give me an update. I want to hear how you’re progressing on your chart.” Moving to this level of responsibility training is important because it reduces the reliance on parental prompters and moves children toward internal motivation.
Parents using this kind of approach in the mornings see significant results in their kids at other times in the day as well. You may continue a similar plan when you come home, or in the afternoon chore time, or as you’re moving toward bed. The reality is that you’re using the daily activities of the day to build character and strengthen a child’s heart.
The Bible compares our Christian lives to running a race. It has a goal and the new patterns require work. It may be helpful to look at your morning routine as part of your calling before God to run the race with purpose. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The passage encourages us to be responsible, do the right thing, and persevere. That’s a great encouragement for our kids both now and for the rest of their lives, and it starts right now the way we handle our morning time.