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The Independent Child: How Much? When?

Morning and bed-time routines, nothing's more frustrating than when you're responsible for herding the whole family out of the house on limited time.  Heather's looking to other urbanMamas to see how to get her kids to help ready themselves in the morning:

I have a question for moms with school-aged kids. I have a 5 year old kindergartner and an almost 8 year old second grader. Getting them up and dressed and ready for school every day is the most time-consuming part of my morning, and at bedtime, it's the same. I also feel like so much more could get done if I didn't have to be helping so much; my kids rarely brush their teeth before they go to school, and I often leave the house with eating my own breakfast because I spend the whole morning getting them ready (and they spend it fooling around). How much independence should I look for from them at these ages? It's like they either want me to do everything (get me dressed, pick out my outfit, you brush my teeth, etc.) or I feel like I have to constantly remind them what to do and when, even though we do the same routine every day. I've got kid #3 on the way in Feb and I can't imagine a universe in which my older kids need me to do every little thing for them. Help!


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I have kids almost those exact ages and my third is here (9mths old.) School for us starts at 8:30 and 9am and we usually all get up at 7am. My kids get dressed themselves and we try to get them to do this before they come downstairs. Then it is usually go to the bathroom, eat breakfast, remind them to put shoes and socks, remind them it is cold and they can't wear shorts year round, have them get their backpacks ready and then make lunches. While it is a lot of reminding they are the ones doing everything. It helps that we carpool w/our neighbor for my second grader, but even the days she drives I need to take my pre-schooler to school and the baby come with me.

If you are comfortable with their clothing choices I would let them start doing that themselves, if not maybe pick out their clothes the night before and then tell them to get dressed before breakfast. When all is said and done we usually have about 20 minutes extra in the am for them to play.

For bedtime we try to have them ready for bed at least a 1/2 before bedtime so it isn't a nightmare rush that leaves you crazy.
Also if you can keep the same or similar routine into the weekend then it isn't a shock to all of you come Monday!

I think the bottom line is that they are old enough to be doing these things themselves but you will need to be patient as they adjust to having new responsibilites. That patience may need to include a kid going to school w/o a sweatshirt b/c they didn't listen to you and didn't look for it until it was time to walk out the door, or a kid who really does go to school in pj's b/c they didn't listen to you (believe me it will only take once to cure that one!!) Also, you should sit down and explain to them that starting Monday they are responsible for x y z, don't drop it on them the morning you want to start this.

Good luck!

Once you get into the routine that Daphne is talking about, checklists are a really good reminder, and you can post them on the front door, bedroom door or bathroom door (even on the bathroom mirror!). For non-readers, you can use pictures, either drawn or cut out of a magazine, or clip art from the computer. You can have the kid help you to design it if they want, so they can be more invested! For the kid who struggles with the morning routine, smiley stickers on the checklist may be a good incentive, but I would hesitate to reward beyond stickers and praises for a job well done!

Your whole day would be different if you didnt get off to a stressful start but its easier said than done. I really enjoy the Love and Logic methods and have found that using some of them has really changed how I react/deal with my son. I recommend their book "Love and Logic -meeting the challenge" by Jim Fay (I think, its lent out at the moment) All their books seem to say the same thing, so dont get caught up in thinking you need more than that one. Their website is www.loveandlogic.com if you want to find the exact name of that particular book...but I think I at least have the name right. I got it from Barnes and Noble and it can be ordered if not in stock. It helps you raise independent children that have confidence in their own abilities.

I think independence should start as early as your child shows interest in doing things for himself / herself. I think it starts as ealy as the infant years. I've tried not to give into the urge of doing things for my kids (at least the older one) such as feeding them, brushing their teeth, putting on their shoes, etc. because it seems I'm always in a hurry. For important tasks such as brushing and flossing their teeth, I let them take a turn and follow up with my own brushing. I have to remind myself to be patient and not get to bothered with the end results. I try to encourage my 3.5 year old son to dress himself including putting on his shoes. It's commonplace that he puts on everything backwards but he's able to feel a sense of accomplishment for being able to help himself. This doesn't answer your question though.

Perhaps a small step to gaining some independence is to encourage your kids to choose out their school clothes as part of the bedtime routine. Also, it might not be a bad idea to remind them that you have to leave the house at a certain time. They can choose to dress themselves with the clothes they (you) picked out or in their pajamas. Maybe showing to school in their pajamas is what it takes to make them think about morning routine a bit differently?

Thanks, everyone, for all your tips and shared stories. I am trying to give us more time in the morning so we aren't so rushed, and I am trying to have more "when you accomplish that, then this happens" situations so they can succeed in finishing their tasks. We'll see how it goes!

Love and logic is the way to go to make kids be responsible for themselves. You get the books/tapes and videos at your local library.

But basically it puts the responsibility for being dressed etc. on the child. I have a 5 year old and have been a single Mom for years. I lay out his cloths in AM but my son knows that if he is not dressed by the time I come back upstairs I will turn off the TV for the morning. And if it happens a second time no TV that evening.

It did not take him long to clue in. Sometimes he hears me coming upstairs and yells “Wait”. He knows what the consequence is. The burden is now on him and not on me.

The bedtime thing was harder. My ex would sit with our son and go into his room every single time he called out. YIKES that was ugly.

I told him all week I was no longer going to do that. So on a Thursday night…I left the room. He yelled and shrieked and I just kept calling out to him…that he was OK and I was here. That first night it took 3 hours to get him to sleep. It was hard to be strong for that long. The second it was 1.5. By Monday it was just a few minutes.

Now bedtime is not a problem because he knows I mean business.

I have a seven year old son and a five month old daughter. I found with the birth of my daughter my son went back to wanting me to do everything for him. As you can imagine it made getting him ready and the baby for the school run a nightmare. What i finally did was to put his clothes out at night and in the morning wake him and get him to clean his teeth, wash etc and then get dressed. If he took an overly long time i would remind him that his school had a 'tardy' register and that i would explain to the secretary why we were constantly been late. The idea of getting into trouble at school quite quickly got my son moving into action to get ready for school. I also made up a star chart and as we left for school as long as we were leaving on time i would put on a happy face sticker. With bed time i always keep the same routine and time for bed. I usually give my son a shower or bath an hour before bed and then it's chill out time in front of the television with warm milk. At bedtime i normally will read him a story and always say a pray. On the whole he has always been good at going to bed i think because of this. I'm now starting this routine with my daughter.
I have always found that if you have to correct negative behaviour when you finish telling your child why they can't do something or why they need to do something all conversations should be finished on a postive note. A kind of it's not what you say it's how your saying it situation.
Hope this helps in some small way. And good luck and best wishes to you on your up coming new baby.

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