Are You A Tom-Tom Mom (or Dad)?

(Laura’s note: I’m on maternity leave, and while I’ll post occasionally over the next few weeks, I also wanted to use this opportunity to run some guest posts from my favorite bloggers. Enjoy!)

by Stephanie Vozza

I have a confession to make: I have TomTom tendencies. I feel the need to stand over my children calling out directions like a GPS.

I was having one of those parent vent sessions with my husband, remarking that our boys wouldn’t brush their teeth if I didn’t tell them. Why? I asked. Why? And then it dawned on me as I was maneuvering the streets of Chicago using a GPS to find my way. I could never find my destination again because I wasn’t learning the route; I was simply reacting to the commands.

Pulling the plug on GPS mornings isn’t easy. Kids might feel lost at first, but it is possible to show them the way and put them on autopilot. Here’s how:

Think of your own morning routine. You most likely do the same things each morning, perhaps even in the same order, without even thinking about it (and hopefully without being told!) This is a routine, or habit. Establishing a routine takes time – about three weeks, actually.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho-Cybernetics, discovered this technique: devote 15 minutes a day to forming a habit you wish to establish and do this faithfully for 21 days. By the fourth week, it should actually be harder not to engage in the new behavior than it would be to continue doing it. According to Dr. Maltz, the key is that the 21 days need to be in a row. This is probably why your child (or mine, at least!) doesn’t get into a good morning routine; our weekend mornings are completely routine-free.

To establish your child’s routine, start by writing down tasks her or she needs to accomplish. Engage your child by having them help make the list. Use paper (laminate it to make it sturdy), index cards, a white board or a morning chore chart, and post it where your child can see, such as the bedroom door, nightstand or the bathroom mirror. For young children, include pictures. It might help to have your child check off the task with a dry erase marker or flip over the index cards when each task is completed. Make sure they don’t come to the kitchen until all of the items in their morning routine are done.

In the beginning, your child’s routine will be more like a daily to-do list. But the difference between a to-do list and a routine is that a routine becomes a natural course of action, done every day without prompting. You should notice that, after several weeks, your child doesn’t need the prompting that the written cues give. Some children will pick it up sooner than others; don’t give up!

Be sure to keep the routine in place on the weekend. This will be the first key to your success. The second key to your child’s success? Stay out of the way! Learning a routine is like learning to ride a bike; if mom or dad continues to hold on, the child doesn’t learn balance. If you have TomTom tendencies (like me), this will be hard. But it’s the way children establish routines.

 Stephanie Vozza is the author of The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom’s Life Easier.

5 thoughts on “Are You A Tom-Tom Mom (or Dad)?

  1. We use this system and I noticed a HUGE difference when the morning routine list went astray a week ago. My daughter took a LOT longer to get ready and needed many more reminders the stay on task. I totally agree about the importance of keeping that routine on weekends as well. Great tips!

    1. @StephJ – thanks for your comment! I know Stephanie will be pleased that this system and mindset helps. In my house, we’re still working to figure out what the kids can do and can’t yet, but the “can” list is probably longer than we give them credit for…

  2. We have a checklist chart that we refer to. I was hovering over my kids, and not getting myself ready in the process. They are amazingly good at getting themselves (and their rooms) ready in the morning, especially when their allowance is affected. We have a checklist for bedtime routines too. With my older son we have fazed out the afterschool list, but just started it for my younger son. It is so much bette to put the onus on them, rather than sounding like a nagging parent all the time.

  3. Eek. This was me.

    Love this idea, and I will be linking to this post in one of my upcoming Parenting Roundup Posts.

    One other crucial piece that we used with our children was the approach we learned from reading “Positive Discipline”: Natural Consequences.

    The consequences approach worked really well, as we did not protect our daughters from the consequences of their actions. (Of course, we are not talking about things such as basic safety here.)

    If they chose not to eat breakfast, well, they went until snack time at school to eat.

    If they chose not to get dressed before it was time to leave, well, we went to daycare in pj’s.

    Remember that this was not done in a punishing, retributive fashion, but in a calm “oh, I see you’ve decided to go today in your pj’s” manner.

    Along with the lists of tasks you note above, I think this was a crucial component to easier mornings.

    Before anyone possibly feels I was unusually cruel, I invite you to read my daughter’s blog, as she wrote about the going to daycare in pj’s experience:
    http://www.alexishelmrath.com/2011/10/what-are-you-saying-yes-to/

    1. @Kim – I like the idea of natural consequences. In my next book, I mention a woman who’d take her nieces and nephews to disney world and give them $20 for the day, and tell them that’s it. Of course, first time kid has cash in hand he blows it in the first 5 minutes, and then faces a long day of watching his friends eat and buy souvenirs and all that. Which may seem harsh, but is a great lesson on thinking beyond the moment, and is certainly better than someone learning that lesson at age 30 when he spends his paycheck in the first two days and then faces a long month.

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