Why are mornings so hard? Getting everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door on time is so super stressful for us moms!  It’s no uncommon to be out of patience by 7:30am and completely exhausted by 7:45. How are we supposed to start our full days when this is the way it starts?!

I’ve shared before about ways to make mornings easier. You can find that here. But today I want to focus on one simple hack that totally saved a family’s mornings: music.

Getting one child out of bed in the morning was a two-parent effort for this family. They started each day with power struggles, arguments, and sometimes even aggressive behavior from their son. And guess what- they also have two other young children who also need a ton of attention and help every morning. This was not a good way for anyone to start their day- both parents were frustrated and the kids were not in a good place to start school after a rough morning!

I brainstormed with the parents- ideas to help make mornings smoother. They already had a visual schedule in place and were minimizing the amount of verbal instructions or requests they were giving. (Good job, parents!)

They already had a reward system in place to earn points the kids could exchange for prizes. This system was working and helpful other times of the day, but not for mornings. (Good job, parents!)

We talked about calming strategies and how to help their son calm down in the morning before he went to school.

The final plan from our brainstorming session: use music. Their son likes music and classical music had been used successfully before as part of his self-soothing and calm down routines.  But instead of waiting until he was upset and using it as a calming tool, we decided to try pairing music with his morning routine. Play the calming music that he likes from the moment he wakes up. Pair something he likes (music) with something he doesn’t like (morning routine) to make the morning routine less aversive, less awful to the child.

We changed up something super simple in the environment and the results were fantastic- mornings were easier! No more battles to get through the morning routine. Cranky attitudes still happen in the morning, but that’s normal! I have a cranky attitude many mornings myself.

Sometimes when we are dealing with the same problem behavior at the same time every day, it’s become a habit. Something about that time of day, that routine, that environment is now a cue that starts a problem behavior chain. So change the environment. Alter the cues (the technical term is a discriminative stimulus) to prevent the problem behavior chain from even beginning.

Use things your child likes. We pair something they like (that is reinforcing to them) with these times of day or routines that are difficult. Over time, the reinforcing properties transfer over to the routine. We are making the unfun thing more fun. The technical term is pairing with reinforcement.

steps to make routines smoother at home:

  1. Notice when problem behaviors are occurring. Jot down what daily routines are problematic. Look for patterns.
  2. Identify something you can change about that routine. Can you move the location of the things needed- change seats at the dinner table, put the shoes in the car instead of in the closet, move the toothbrush to a cup on the other side of the sink, etc? Ask your child to help you rearrange things and change up your routines.
  3. Pair the routine with something your child likes. Make it more fun! Music is easy to do since our phones can play us any song we like. But if your child doesn’t like music- this isn’t going to work. Make the routine a game. Use a silly voice. Print pictures of their favorite characters doing that routine.
  4. Pay attention to see if it’s helping. If the same problems continue despite these efforts, what you added (paired) isn’t reinforcing to your child. Don’t keep doing something that isn’t working. Try a different reinforcer. Ask your child what they’d like to pair with that routine.

Sometimes we need big, complex behavior plans to get over a hard situation. Sometimes we just need to make things a little more fun and shake up some of our old routines. Sometimes it’s as simple as playing music to make your mornings go from a daily nightmare to a pleasant start to the day.

What routines need a little help at your house? What environmental changes can you make? What fun things can you pair with it?