My family has a very set, tight running morning routine. This was NOT always the case. I remember when my eldest daughter was 5 and had just begun Kindergarten. Going to school 5 days a week was new to her and was a shock to her system. We had a drive, and if we didn’t get in the car by 7:20, traffic ate us alive. I had it all planned out. Up at 6:30, get dressed, eat, brush hair and teeth, and go. By the third week of school my plans had fallen apart, and our mornings had become chaos. My daughter was unhappy, and I was frustrated and angry. I kept trying new ideas. I would tweak the routine to try and make it better, smoother, and more appealing to my daughter. Nothing was working. Finally it dawned on me. WE had a problem, but I was doing all the work.
You see, we as parents have the habit of taking on all of the responsibility for trying to figure out solutions for all of the problems in our families. We forget that we are not the only ones experiencing the problems and there are lots of minds available full of wonderful ideas. When we stop and include our children in the problem solving process, we help them learn about facing and solving problems, and they take greater ownership in following through with the decisions that are made. It can also be a way to bring everyone closer together.
So, I decided that I would ask my daughter for her help with our morning dilemma. After school one day, when we were both calm and had plenty of time, I introduced the 5 steps to team problem solving.
Step 1: I invited my daughter to share her point of view about the problem. In this step my only job was to listen and communicate that I understood how she was feeling. I didn’t have to agree with her or defend myself. Just listen and reflect her feelings and show understanding. Once she felt heard, she was ready to listen.
Step 2: I got to share my feelings and concerns in a way that was not attaching. Saying, “YOU are doing this” and “YOU are doing that”, just makes people defensive. Instead I used “I statements,” such as, “I am feeling frustrated with how long it is taking to get ready.”
Step 3: I invited my daughter to brainstorm ideas for a new morning routine with me. I let her share every idea she could think of. Then I shared all of my ideas.
Step 4: This one goes with step three. As she shared her ideas, I wrote every one of them down without evaluating them. Even ideas I knew would not work (“I want to lay in bed for 10 minutes while you scratch my back and then I’ll get up”). If I picked apart her ideas as she was sharing them, I would stop her willingness to share. The process would stop and we would be stuck. So I wrote them all down, and then I wrote down all of mine.
Step 5: We used the list to find a way to compromise. Some ideas we both liked and kept, some were tossed out completely, and some were changed to work for both of us. We turned our separate ideas into ones we both could agree with. She even got 5 minutes of back scratching from me as she woke up instead of 10. As it turned out, that little bit of time was the transition that she needed from waking up to moving that made all of the difference.
I was surprised at how well it worked. After 10 or 15 minutes of problem solving, we had a plan. My daughter was invested in it, and the next morning went beautifully, as did all of the mornings after that. We have had hiccups here and there, but we just go take out our original plan and problem solve again. Our routine has slowly changed over time, but some things have stayed the same. And it still works (and she still gets that back scratch).