School starts soon and life will get back to a routine. For some, that also means hectic and stressful mornings of waking up early, packing school lunches, and making sure the kids do not forget anything as they hurry out the door to catch the bus. When you add in a child with special needs, the challenge to make sure everything gets done right and on time can be overwhelming.
Children or teens diagnosed with a mental illness, learning differences, autism, or a processing disorder often have extra difficulty waking up, following directions, keeping track of their belongings, or focusing on personal hygiene.
These children are not lazy. They truly struggle with focus, organization, and processing. Multi-step commands are nearly impossible to remember. Certain medications can make them drowsy. These kids need extra support, and as parents or caregivers, it is our job to give them that extra boost, and to ensure that the mornings run like clockwork, without added stress.
Since ‘life hacks’ are the latest trend, I have created ‘life hacks for smoother mornings.’ I hope they work for you!
Getting out of bed. Some people are not morning people, especially teenagers. Waking up for school is not most people’s favorite activity, but unfortunately it must be done. In addition to setting an earlier bedtime and ensuring that your child gets enough sleep, try these tips to make wake-up time less frustrating:
- Change the time. If you need your child to be awake at 7:00 a.m., actually wake them up at 6:45 a.m. You don’t even need to tell them you are waking them up early. By the time they get up, it will be 7:00 a.m.!
- Have a pet? Let the pet have wake-up duty. Having a furry friend lick you on the face is one way to get out of bed more easily in the morning.
- Play music. We all are used to getting up to music, but try it for the kids. Play it loudly! Even sing it. That is sure to get them out of bed.
Getting dressed. Many kids with sensory issues struggle with getting dressed and wearing certain clothes. There is no need to stress about that perfect matching outfit or cute little dress. The goal should be to just get out the door with clothes and shoes!
- Make it easier and let them pick what they wear, and do it the night before. Place items of clothing beside their bed in order of how to put them on.
- Want it even easier? Even if your school does not have a uniform, pretend that it does. Buy a few of the same simple shirts and a few simple bottoms. Done.
Morning hygiene. It may be second nature for you to wash your face, brush your teeth, and put on deodorant in the morning, but some people need reminders. There are a lot of steps and things to do, but by keeping everything in order, labeled, and organized, your child should be able to handle the routine by themselves and gain a sense of responsibility. Here is one idea on how to create a bathroom work station. If you need to, you can also add a laminated chart reminding them what they need to do with pictures as an added bit of support. Be creative and do what works for you. Photo by Carolyn Dalgliesh, author of "The Sensory Child Gets Organized."
Remembering their things. Kids are always forgetting their lunch or leaving things at school, like their homework or empty lunchbox. To help them remember when you cannot be there, create a checklist they will see every day – right inside their bag. Buy a backpack that has a flap that opens up inside of just zipping open. On the inside flap of the backpack, write with permanent marker a list of everything that needs to be in the backpack each day. If you need to use pictures, you can create a list, laminate it, and fasten it on the flap. This way they can look at it at school and make sure they do not forget anything on the way to or from school.
Do you have any tips that have worked for getting your kids up easier, and then out the door without raising your voice or inducing tears? Share them in the comments below.
Tracy Greenberg has become a strong part of the Sheppard Pratt community. She is mother to Bryce, who attends The Frost School, part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System. She gives her time as part of the Consumer Advisory Council, a group of family members, former patients, former students, and employees of the health system who are dedicated to improving our quality of care and enhancing recovery from mental illness and addiction. Follow along with Tracy through her blog.