Monday, December 19, 2011

When Morning Brings Chaos!

I was talking to a family about their wild, crazy mornings – they have 4 children and getting 6 people out the door is no easy task.   Amid all the chaos, it would be easy to conclude that the children are willfully misbehaving.  However, as is often the case with young children, the only family members who actually care about being on time are Mom and Dad. 
Let’s join this family for a minute.  There is Mom and Dad, their 9 year old daughter, their 7 year old daughter, their 3 year old daughter and their 1 year old son.  It is 7AM on Monday morning and the 9 year old keeps changing her mind about what to wear so she is late.  Mom just asked the 7 year old to help the 1 year old find his coat; she ignored Mom which she often does, so Dad got angry and started yelling.  The 3 year old is going to preschool which she likes, but right this very second, she is intent on playing with her cereal and making a great big, gooey mess in the bottom of the bowl.  The 1 year old is running back and forth to his room to bring his stuffed animals to the breakfast table so they can eat too!  Mom and Dad are rushing from one child to the next; goading, reminding, directing, pleading, ordering and yelling.  By 7:30, they are exhausted and grumpy.
The problem here is that the parents care very much about getting out the door and the kids are perfectly content to let them.  The kids are focused on their own agenda and as long as their parents own the “time clock”, they don’t have to.  Notice their behavior isn’t necessarily bad; they are just caught up in their own thoughts and haven’t been given any responsibility to do anything differently.  So what is it that influences children to choose to follow their parent’s directions rather than their own preferences?
It begins with calm, clear, authoritative, loving leadership.  If I were the parents in our example, I would no longer chase, remind, plead, yell or any other non-productive behavior.  I would act like I expect to be obeyed.  And in time, the kids will get the message that these leaders need to be followed.
And what happens in the time between today’s chaos and whenever the kids magically choose to follow the message? 
Quite simply, in one word - consequences.
For example, when the family arrives home tonight, the parents might calmly announce that everyone’s bed time is an hour early because of the chaotic morning.  They then, just as calmly, could announce that they are no longer going to chase, remind, plead and yell in the morning.  However, they might add, any time the family is late because of the 3 girls not getting ready, there will be “consequences”.  Note that the 1 year old is not old enough to understand morning responsibilities or consequences so he is not included in the parental expectations.  They will be helping him, but how much easier it will be with only 1 child to assist!  Also note that the 3 year old IS old enough to understand both ideas.
In a fairly short time, if the consequences are significant enough so that the children really dislike them and if the parents consistently and calmly impose them, I predict the children will choose to get ready each morning with a minimal amount of disruption.  In short they will accept responsibility for themselves because they learn that life is better for them when they do.  How about that – children who CHOOSE to follow the leader – mornings may never be the same!

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