By Carolyn Dalgliesh
Author of The Sensory Child Gets Organized
One of the most common trouble times for all families is the morning rush. Many kids are overwhelmed and easily frustrated at the prospect of getting out the door on time, and parents can quickly get overwhelmed and exasperated. Not a great way to start the day! These triggers can be heightened when a child has special needs, such as with my family.
My son has sensory processing disorder, so when there is a time-pressure element (as there always is with the morning rush), he’s on edge right off the bat. In addition, if your child is on any sort of daily medication that takes time to enter the system or that wears off over time, the early-morning period may be when a child is functioning without medicinal support and is more susceptible to frustration, distraction, hyperfocus, and rigidity. Whether your child has any special challenges or not, there are many ways to use structure and routing to streamline the morning rush out the door and off to work and school.
The first place to start is to have as much done the night before to help you get ahead of the morning rush. Simple things can be prepared ahead of time: Clothes picked out, lunches made, showers or baths done, and backpacks by the back door are all simple ways to reduce your sunrise stress.
I worked with one boy, John, who also has some sensory processing issues. John had a very hard time getting out the door in the morning. He had attentional challenges and was working without his usual medicinal support first thing in the morning, making the morning rush even more challenging. Mom had two other children to get out the door, and they were on a tight schedule. The rushed mornings and the distractibility issues left John in tears and in meltdown mode many mornings. This was a tough way for this family to start their day. Here is the system we created to support John during the morning rush.
Break it down. Create a laminated checklist of the morning schedule and put in the kitchen area for John to review each morning as he was eating his breakfast. (Eat breakfast, 20 minutes; wash face and brush teeth, 5 minutes; get dressed, 5 minutes; shoes on, 5 minutes.)
Reduce distractions. The new command central for John in the morning is the breakfast area and the downstairs bathroom. To prevent the distraction and hyperfocus that occurs when John makes trips upstairs, his new dressing and teeth brushing area during the week is the first-floor bathroom. This means John is only navigating two rooms that are right next to each other and is not going back upstairs. Mom and John picked out clothes for the whole school week on Sunday night and put them in a labeled plastic bin/drawer system in the first-floor bathroom. To complete the dressing process and push consistency, mom put a small clothes hamper for pajamas in the bathroom. Mom also bought John a second toothbrush and toothpaste to keep in the downstairs bathroom. Since John likes to have breakfast first and slowly wake up while eating and sitting at the table, we built in the longest chunk of time for this part of the process (20 minutes). When he is done eating, John goes to the first-floor bathroom to get dressed and brush his teeth.
Create a visual aid for the task at hand. We created a few visuals to support John’s new streamlined morning routine, including a laminated schedule that hangs on the bathroom wall, reiterating the schedule. We also have a visual support with the labeled plastic drawer unit. The drawers are labeled Monday through Friday, which eliminates another decision that John has to make (deciding which clothes to wear).
Mom said that one item of clothing that could cause issues for John was socks. Sometimes he needed to try a few pairs to find one that felt right. Knowing this helped us use the last plastic drawer for extra socks to give John a choice if he needed it.
Last, we set up a basket by the door with shoes for John. So if it is a morning that John is rushing, he can bring the shoes and socks in the car with him and finish that piece en route to school. We want to avoid a meltdown and give him a compromise by allowing him to finish the last few tasks in the car if needed.
Some children are further motivated by a reward system. In John’s case, every day he is ready to go on time, he gets a sticker, and after five stickers he gets something special.
I checked in with John’s mom a few weeks after setting up this new system and she reported that the morning rush had gotten much better and that they were getting out of the house with very few tears and almost no meltdowns. Sounds like a much better start to the day for everyone. It may sound like a bit of work to set up a system like this, but the improvement in daily living (happier children and less stress for parents) makes the time investment seem very small.
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