My 12-year-old son has always been slow to wake up in the mornings. And, even once he is awake, he’s a bit of a bear until his blood starts circulating. It takes him a while to become alert enough to engage in any sort of meaningful communication. He will likely be the kind of teen and adult who hits snooze 10 times before finally peeling himself out of bed. He needs a lot of extra time to get ready because his morning grogginess causes him to literally drag his feet.
I’m the opposite. When my alarm goes off, I’m up. I never hit snooze, and I like to leave myself exactly enough time to get ready. The idea of giving up sleep to gain a few extra minutes in the morning to “wake up” or “have time to myself” just doesn’t compute with me.
As you can imagine, this difference between my tween son and me in how we handle mornings has afforded much opportunity for conflict and frustration. Mornings in my home often used to end with me frustrated at best and screaming at my son at worst. I often ended up feeling guilty for sending him out the door on a sour note. I’d imagine showing up at school just to tell him I was sorry for yelling (but also, Could you maybe just get dressed? How hard is it to pull on a pair of pants and a shirt? Please tell me why it’s so hard! And why do you never know where your shoes are? Are you trying to kill me?)
After one particularly outrageous morning skirmish wherein my son’s morning grouchiness had bubbled over and led to saying a bunch of hurtful things to his younger sister, who is typically a happy riser and basically just tries to stay out of the way in the morning, I knew something had to change. My son’s reluctance to get moving was starting everyone’s day off on the wrong foot. And my nagging wasn’t helping. We both needed to do better.
The first thing I did was institute a ban on screen time until my son could demonstrate two consecutive mornings of staying on task and not being cranky toward his sister or me. Also, because I knew my hovering and nagging only made him even more grouchy and likely to erupt, I removed myself from the equation. At 12 years old, my son was more than capable of getting ready entirely on his own.
We made him a morning checklist on a whiteboard which would be his responsibility alone to complete. No longer would I float nearby in the mornings with my well-intentioned reminders: “Are your teeth brushed?” “Is your backpack ready?” “Do you have your shoes?”
My son has to mark the items off on the checklist, and he has to pay attention to the time. No more warnings from me about the ticking clock. And if the items on the checklist aren’t done by leaving time, no screen time for that day—no exceptions.
My son bristled about the idea of tying screen time to morning behavior, but that’s how I knew I needed to follow through. Screen time is his currency. His time is already limited because of homework and other activities, so what little remains is precious to him.
The checklist has been a massive help. Not just because of the usefulness of simplifying mornings via boxes that need to be physically checked off, but because I am no longer in the picture. My son and I are just too different when it comes to how we deal with mornings, and my getting involved, no matter how encouraging I think I’m being (and let’s face it, I’m not at my best pre-coffee), only leads to us butting heads. My nagging only stresses my son out even more which makes it harder for him to think about what comes next. He’s already groggy; adding tension by yelling at him does absolutely nothing to help him clear his head.
The one part of the morning I still participate in, though, is the actual wakeup. I still go in and wake both of my kids up by rubbing their backs and telling them they’re my favorite kids in the world. Truth be told, I won’t give this up until they ask me to.
But I want nothing to do with the rest of their morning routine. And it’s made for a much smoother start to the day for everyone.
It’s been months since I implemented this change in our mornings, and we’ve only had a few instances where I had to remove screen time privileges for the day. Now all of us get to start our day on a good note. My son is developing a sense of independence and at the same time absorbing the lesson that behaving in a way that negatively impacts others is not in his best interest. And his little sister no longer has to experience the tension of mornings fraught with yelling and conflict.