We all have those mornings when the kids wake up on the wrong side of the bed. For whatever reason, they’re cranky, and trying to accomplish anything in a timely manner is suddenly out of the question. Regardless of how hard you try to prepare and prevent these moments of discombobulation, they are inevitable in a family.
These instances can be very frustrating, especially if you’re running late. Your instinct may be to raise your voice or rush your child, but this will only disorient them more. And the more you try to force cooperation, the more miserable everyone will feel.
My children are six and four, and their demeanor in the opening minutes of our morning indicates how the rest of our day will go. I practice a gentle parenting style, and I’ve learned that when they wake up grumpy, the best thing we can do is hit the reset button and start the day completely over.
Our restart takes about five minutes, never more than 10, and is the perfect way to help us get back on the same page. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be 10 minutes behind schedule with a happy kid than on time with one who’s out of sorts.
How to Reset Your Morning
Drop what you’re doing
My first step in our restart is to drop what I’m doing, usually making breakfast or cleaning the kitchen, and calmly approach the child that is unhappy (crying, whining, being blatantly obstinate). I’ll tell her that we’re going to start over, and hold her hand as we walk back to her room.
Find out why they are upset
The next thing we do is sit on her bed and talk about why she’s upset. My kids’ responses range anywhere from having a bad dream to being disappointed she woke up last. I’ll spend a couple of minutes listening and seeing if we can find a solution together. Sometimes nothing is wrong and she just needs a good cuddle from Mommy.
“Hey sweetheart, what’s going on this morning? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Thank you so much for telling me this. What if we try ____?”
Make a plan for the morning
After we’ve discussed the problem or hugged it out, we’ll make a plan and state the expectations for the morning. Kids thrive on predictability, and it’s always helpful for mine if I clearly communicate what needs to be accomplished.
“We’re going to leave in 20 minutes because we have to drop your sister off. You need to finish your oatmeal, brush your teeth, and put on the outfit that’s hanging on the door. Later on, we get to go to the library. Eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed.”
Close your eyes and count to ten
Then we’ll lay down, close our eyes, and do a very s-l-o-w countdown from ten, focusing on taking deep breaths as we count. When we get to one, we “wake up,” cheerfully say good morning, and go back downstairs to try again.
“Good morning! I’m so excited to go to the library with you today. Right now, it’s time to eat breakfast, brush teeth, and get dressed. Hold my hand and I’ll walk to the kitchen with you. Let’s go!”
If you have a baby or nonverbal child, you should still try this dialogue. You might not get a reply, but you’re introducing your little one to new vocabulary and helping them understand how your family operates and communicates with each other. When they’re ready, they’ll respond.
I know there were a lot of tidbits in there, so here’s a quick recap of how you can respond to a cranky kid in the morning:
- Calmly stop what you’re doing.
- Head back to bed and talk about why they’re upset.
- Discuss the plan for the morning/day.
- Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and count down from ten.
- Open your eyes, repeat the plan, and try again!
If your child isn’t ready to restart after all of that, don’t stress out. Each day is different and sometimes it takes a little extra time. I’ll either repeat the plan and do another countdown, or offer them a few more minutes to process their thoughts alone.
It’s normal to feel helpless and irritated when your kids wake up in a bad mood, but the most important thing you can do to have a great day is keep a happy, patient disposition. Being a mom is tiring, thankless work, especially knowing that your kids constantly feed off of your energy and your example. The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day and you want to make sure that you’re sending them positivity and compassion no matter what obstacles you encounter.