Can I let you in on a little secret? There is no reason that most preschoolers can’t entertain themselves while you sleep in. Crazy, right? This weekend Sprout woke with the sun while A and I snoozed until about 8:30. Oh how lovely!
(I”ll refrain from telling you that he also got himself completely dressed and ready for church while we dozed before you really start to hate me.)
And for most* of you reading this with children 3 and up, put in a little work and that can be your morning too!
Here are the steps:
1) Pick a date for this new morning routine and talk it up. We chose the day Sprout turned 3 and 3/4ths. We would have done it sooner and will with future kids, but that was a few months after he came to live with us – he was feeling more comfortable in his space and had a good morning rhythm set up. An added bonus was a little introduction to fractions 😉 When you talk it up and prep your child for the change, be excited but in a matter of fact way. Present it to them in a “this is what’s going to happen and its going to be great!” tone.
2) Phase II of the prep is organizing the tools the child will need for her independent time. We took a few baskets and filled them with nice quiet toys and activities. Basket #1 coloring books and crayons. #2 play dough. #3 dinosaurs, ect. Yes, these were all things that were already available in his room, but putting them into the baskets made executing “the plan” easier for little sleepy morning brains. If your kid needs a little extra motivation and excitement, you could get some new things and assign them only for the “special morning” time. You probably won’t have to keep this up forever – now that its routine and expected, we’ve done away with the baskets and Sprout knows he can just play with anything he’d like to as long as it’s in his room. Entertainment of choice these days is the Ta.g R.eader Santa brought him. worth. every. penny.
3) Plan for the excuses. You know the ones…the “But I’m hungry!” and “I have to go potty!” Before bed, Sprout chooses his morning snack (go.go squeeze, granola bar, fruit, dry cereal, ect) and it goes into a cooler bag with an ice pack and a cup of milk that sits in his room waiting for the morning. We also discussed, at length, that he is allowed to leave his room to go to the bathroom, but must return immediately. We also practiced. But that may or may not have been overkill.
3) Have realistic expectations. Guaranteed, she will not play independently in her room for 3 hours on the first morning. And he might not be as silent as a mouse as he really gets into his imaginative play. But once you get the framework in, these are things you can work on as you go. Between getting himself dressed, eating his snack, and playing, Sprout now easily and happily does 90 minutes. And it’s not just about our extra snooze – the creativity, the independence, the comfort in being with himself are all very valuable things he’s working on in that time. It gets the day started on just the right foot.
4) Show her whats in it for her. I don’t mean bribing (though I’m not above a sticker chart here or there if it gets the job done) – I mean the natural benefit of a well rested parent. “Oh buddy, you played so nicely in your room this morning and I feel great from that extra sleep! I’m definitely going to have the energy to play XXX with you today!” Once they understand that it’s a win-win situation, its smooth sailing.
5) So what if it doesn’t quite go that smoothly? What if on day 2 they come to wake you at 5am ready to start the day? Calmly and quietly remind them of the new plan and bring them back to their room. Do not engage in other conversation (you know you’re gonna get barraged with the but! but! but! or I don’t want to! or I want to be with you mommy!) – you’ve reminded of the plan once, now not another word. Set a timer for the length of time they are expected to be in their room (15 minutes? 10 minutes? Set him up for success initially so you can get to #4). If they come out, bring them back calmly and silently. Did I mention do. not. engage? That part is critical. Dont give up or give in. The work will be worth it – I promise!!
ps – if you live in a tropical location, I’ll gladly come to your house and to the above for you. Shouldn’t take me longer than a week. Have I mentioned that we are getting MORE SNOW? Shoot me.
*I say most because I recognize that some children have special needs/histories/behaviors that would interfere with the ability to have a well-behaved independent morning. But seriously, if Sprout can do this, yours probably can too. The real mommy tip here is to set high expectations for your children – they will absolutely amaze you when given the opportunity.