When should my children get up and ready by themselves?

When do kids typically wake themselves up?
Can this be accomplished without conflict?
How do I get my child to get out of bed on her own?
Why should this even matter?

For one thing, I must have a positive morning experience. Stress, fighting, and chaos is not the way I want to start my day. Research article after research article indicates that positive morning routines are important for a succesful day.  Stress leads to the release of the hormone cortisol which inhibit flexibility, problem solving and creative thinking. I definitely do not want to start my day or have my kids start their day with extra baggage.

So how does one go about teaching their child to get up on their own without adding stress and chaos to an early morning routine? I still remember the look on a certain therapist’s face when I indicated I was not going to be able to attain the home goal she submitted..  “Within 2 month, Mel will buttons 4 of the 7 mornings”.  I was not waking my child 10 minutes early to practice buttons in kindergarten.  The morning process already had so many complicated variables.  Simple, free of distractions and routine based was my mantra for many years.

I recommend, initially practicing all the skills outside of the morning routine.  Look at each skill and decide which ones your child can complete without the need for speed.  This processes starts at around age two when a child is typically able to get undressed by themselves.  A four-year old is able to dress and undress in loose clothing that does not have fasteners.  A six-year-old might be able to brush his own teeth with parent touching up during the nighttime brushing.  A six to seven-year old with spina bifida might be able to catheterize independently.  A seven-year old might be able to make a simple breakfast.  All kids are different and some take more time to learn and to complete  self-care tasks. The more practice they get the sooner they will be ready complete the tasks sequentially.

When to start using an alarm really seems to vary from family to family. The parents definitely have to be ready to be an active participant. I recall Coleman’s first alarm. He was in third grade and into airplanes. I decided it was time for him to get up on his own. I purchased an alarm that looked like a fighter jet. I set it across from his bed so he would have to get up to turn it off. The alarm made this “cool” noise like a jet plane taking off. That noise was only “cool” for about 5 seconds the next morning. At 6am, I hear this horrible whirling sound and then Coleman screaming at the top of his lungs for someone to turn it off. Their was no way I was going to have that sound wake me up. The airplane alarm disappeared and I decided I was not quite ready to consistly require Coleman to get up and ready on his own.

Getting your child to get out of bed and not just snuggling back under the covers can take some training. This definitely requires consistent parenting.  I used the reward system.  Example,  Your alarm goes off.  I will open your door 15 minutes later.  If you are sitting up and in the process of removing your night-shirt (concrete expectation), I will put a dessert in your lunch box (meaningful reward that could be withheld).  I also used natural consequences.  Example, if I open your door and you are still under the cover I will take all your sheets/blankets off your bed and toss them in the corner (our home is kept a little cold).  I will also turn on the lights (my kids liked to get dressed in the dark).  When you get home from school, you will then have to completely remake your bed before screens (screens means any type of electronic with a screen ie gaming systems, I-pad, TV)

The child’s ability to get up and complete the tasks in a timely matter is also important. Up until last year, it could take Mel 2 hours to get ready in the mornings.  Yes, I got up forty-five minutes early to wake her up and help prompt for time management.   I do not believe she was wasting time or trying to make us late. She did not have the organizational skills, the sequential problem solving and the time awareness to get her self up, dressed and ready any quicker. I have slowly assisted less in the morning routine and this has helped her become independent without the need for rewards, bribes, yelling or excessive stress, most mornings.

Once I knew Mel had the skills necessary to get herself up and ready the last piece to the puzzle was to decide that natural consequences were going to be allowed. If Mel could not get herself up, she would need to wake up just a little earlier and yes, I would allow her to be late and receive a bad grade for not being at school on time. Kids need consequences. The time to teach a child to get up and ready for school by themselves is not ones freshman year in college.

Mel is a junior this year and has finally, consistently gotten herself up.  Alarm goes off, she gets up, dressed, morning routine completed and ready for the ride to school with a few minutes to spare.  I still open the door for a loving “Good Morning”.  I’m not exactly sure what was the turning point. I have emphasized this expectation for some time now. I think, all the pieces have fallen into place for Mel. She has matured, she is striving to be independent, she knows mom is not going to allow her to make others late and I think she realized a stressful morning is no fun. I am hopeful she will continue to be motivated to continue this pattern for years to come.

My answers to the above questions

When do kids typically wake themselves up using an alarm? Middle school

When should I start to teach this skill? Start early by expecting cooperative effort.  By age two, start expecting the child to complete small parts of his or her morning routine ie take your shirt off while I get your shoes.  Break down the tasks and slowly remove yourself from the process.  Teach the skills outside of the morning routine and then slowly add the mastered skills into their morning. 

How do I get my child to get ready by themselves without morning chaos?  Be Calm, Use a Soft Parental Voice, Minimize Distractions, No Screens, Keep To A Routine, Reasonable and Consistent Expectation, Allow for Natural Consequence, Meaningful Rewards

Why should this even matter? Kids with learning challenges need extra time and practice to learn how to do things for themselves. The time to teach independence in the morning routine is not the summer before college.

Its time for extra parent input!
When did your child start to use an alarm?
When was your child finally able to complete the morning routine without help?
What advice do you have for parents wanting to improve the families morning routines?

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