At 7.30am we (myself, an 11 yo, an 8 yo and a 3.75yo) have to be in the car and ready for our day. This is non-negotiable, the older boys have a bus to catch and we have to drive 20 minutes to the bus-stop. The potential for tantrums is immense and that’s just me, even after coffee.
Our eldest son, Joe, is both highly sensitive to external stimulation, outgoing/sociable and…oh look, squirrel (he has a Hare temperament). This means he does not cope with a lot of external pressure – he gets twitchy and silly when he is starting to feel over-whelmed. As well, he was our only child to be forced to cry-it-out and we also used controlled-crying. This helped programme his brain to NEED a large amount of internal pressure, before he can move forward. He actually feels more familiar and comfortable with anxiety than when things go well/smoothly. Anyone spot any potential problems?
In order to keep him Consciously Mindful* we have to walk a tight-rope – firm enough boundaries for him to feel some internal pressure, to get things completed on time, but not so much that he melts down.
The strategies which work best for him are: absolutely NO access to electronics (even music) before he is organised; reminding him in small steps what needs to be done (despite having had to do the same things every morning for the past 18 months and being 11 yo, he still gets over-whelmed when he tries to remember it all) ; and time limits (get dressed in 3 minutes…your time starts, now) and then a small consequence when he doesn’t meet the deadline…something like picking stuff up of the carpet or carrying in extra wood.
We are not punishing him or trying to make him suffer because we have suffered (although, he does feel uncomfortable and would rather not do those extras). We are helping his brain stay in the stressful state of Conscious Mindfulness so that he can get his chores done on time. The picture he carries in his imagination, of possibly having to do extra chores, keeps him Consciously Mindful of what has to happen next.
Our middle son, Sam has a highly sensitive Owl temperament. He cannot cope with pressure either and is internally focussed. (So, when things go wrong Joe will blame external factors, Sam, in contrast, assumes he’s the biggest loser in the world for not being perfect.) He completely shuts down if his internal pressure gauge gets above a certain point: he becomes stubborn and will freeze with anxiety.
Sam is often Consciously Mindful – his hyper-alert temperament pops his brain in that stressful state very easily.
The strategies which work best for him are: plenty of time to wake up and get going (this means he is asleep before 8pm most nights and often by 7.30pm so that he can wake up when he needs to) I call him ¾ hour before he has to be in the car, if he hasn’t woken naturally. As an Owl, he loves check-lists and loads of prior warning before things happen, this means on the mornings he has to have his swimming bag, for example, organised – he is reminded of that fact both the night before and that morning. We had a check list on a piece of paper for him to use for a few months after he began school and now he can easily organise his morning, even around hiccups in the schedule, and he is usually the first child ready to go. Once in the car and driving, I always say, Thank-you, to him for the self-management he shows and when things go wrong, ask what he could do differently next time. (I DO NOT PRAISE HIM We DON’T Praise our Children.)
Ed, the 3.75 yo, is our Butterfly: put on earth to be charming, entertain and find the next party. As a 3 yo he naturally, at a deep biological level, finds Conscious Mindfulness almost impossible. He is capable of dressing himself and making his own breakfast and, when he doesn’t automatically, I organise those for him. He knows that getting in the car on time is non-negotiable because I will, gently but firmly, carry him to the car if I need to. He sometimes eats his breakfast in the car and occasionally gets out of his pjs once the big boys are on the bus.
The other two strategies which work well are ones you’ve probably heard before.
1. The chores and activities the boys have to complete each morning are consistent routines which they have been helped to learn and relearn and relearn over many years. This helps the process to be as automated as possible and reduces overall stress.
Rule of Thumb:
The less conscious thought needed, the lower a person’s stress levels.
2. I get up earlier than everyone else and have usually had my breakfast and completed a few chores before anyone else is either up or really, truly has to get moving.
The magic bullet has been understanding just how difficult Conscious Mindfulness is for anyone, but especially for children. Once I understood this, I was able to focus on pulling the boys into consciousness around their routines, as I needed to.
When they slip into the more natural Unconscious Mindfulness of play, I can measure with the clock and experience when to stop that, and when to allow that to just take its natural course.
The results: much, much smoother mornings; meltdowns, when they happen, are more easily contained; each child is assisted according to temperament/age/personality but the expectations remain consistent for all (all age appropriate personal cares and chores completed on time); and Mummy doesn’t shout so much.
( *’Conscious Mindfulness’ is a state of focussed concentration and is a stressful state for our brains. This is very different from ‘Unconscious Mindfulness’, like being in The Zone or immersed in archetypal play, which is a state of being both highly focussed and relaxed.)
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The boys playing with water and washing-up liquid; not on a school day.