Imposing a Routine Against Their Will

The central paradox of my family life: That which they need the most, they fight the most.

First comment! Juli writes: “Should they still maintain their morning school routine while in this transition phase? Get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, etc.? Mine doesn’t understand why it’s necessary so he’s fighting it.”

The central paradox of my family life: That which they need the most, they fight the most.

The short answer to Juli’s question is yes. It’s crucial to keep a morning routine, but you can modify it.

We delayed James’s school start time an hour, because that fit much better with his natural sleep pattern. It also created a tremendous amount of good will. In Margot’s case, 8:00am still works. But given her school’s online schedule, she could probably start at 9:00 and delay her first class a little bit.

Keep the necessary parts of the routine: brushing teeth, eating breakfast, getting dressed. Add in some fun twists: choosing own outfit, special morning snack, no shoes.

Any time I make concrete suggestions, I have to keep in mind that parents know their kids best. When I was a psychologist, I usually ended up troubleshooting concrete suggestions, because it’s hard to predict how a child will respond when you don’t live with them.

If I were asking myself Juli’s question, I’d follow up with, “What do you do if your child physically resists? Like hiding under the bed?” When things were at their worst last year, I had to “walk” James through his morning routine. I was his shadow the whole morning, gently reminding him of his routine, handing him needed items, and even holding clothes out for him to step into. Sounds like a nightmare, but it was temporary.

I’ve noticed something about my own psychologist advice when I put it into practice as a parent: Everything takes much longer than I thought it would. So acting as James’s morning shadow took weeks, not days. And there was a lot more yelling than I’m comfortable with. But look at him now!

Which brings me to the other paradox: As a psychologist, the best thing I could do for my child was to quit being a psychologist. Some kids need more mothering than others. Friends talk about how independent their kids are and you think, “What’s wrong with us?” First of all, sometimes your friends are lying. But also, the very milestones your child’s peers are enjoying at any given time might be your child’s major sticking point right now.