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Ask the Experts

Need Help With the Morning Routine

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

I struggle with getting my child to school in the morning. What routine works best so he will dress himself and come downstairs and eat a good breakfast? We already pick his clothes out the night before. Is this a good age to start using a clock as a backup wake up after a parent has woken the child up? Do you have any suggestions on how to impress the importance of time in the morning versus dawdling?

Answer:

The good news is that you are not alone. Many parents have this same struggle, day after day. There are some tactics to try, but my first inclination is to suggest that your son may not be getting enough sleep. Elementary school-aged children need between nine and 11 hours of sleep. In our fast-paced society, children even as young as your son are often sleep-deprived.

Since your child does not wake up easily and your morning routine is problematic, it sounds like he may not be getting enough sleep. Here are some suggestions for improving his sleep:

  • Don't give your child food or drink (like chocolate, soda, chocolate milk, tea, etc.) that contains caffeine. Even caffeine earlier in the day can disrupt a child's sleep.
  • Don't let your child watch more than 1 to 2 hours of TV during the day, and don't let him watch TV at bedtime at all. This has been linked to poor sleep.
  • If your child has a TV, a computer or video games in his bedroom, remove it or limit its use to weekends only. Research has suggested that using these media before bed is linked to sleep problems, especially if they are in the child's bedroom.

If sleep is not the culprit, try changing your morning routine around so that you get him up fifteen to thirty minutes earlier. While third-graders are independent in many ways, they often need help getting organized. It may be that he needs to eat breakfast before getting dressed, so that he is fully alert. Or you may need to stay close by while he's getting dressed, so that he's not distracting himself with toys or the warmth of his bed. Finally, if there is a TV on while he's supposed to be getting ready, turn it off. Some children just naturally go into slow motion when there's a television on.

Regarding your question about a clock, your son is certainly old enough to have an alarm clock. Find one with a gentle alarm to wake him up, or a clock radio. I would suggest having the alarm across the room, so that he cannot simply hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. Also, try having the clock wake him up, followed by a good-natured parental reminder.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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