Oh, mama. We all have those days—when the baby wakes up earlier than expected, the empty oatmeal can was mysteriously placed back in the pantry and even your top-knot refuses to cooperate. On those days, mustering up a positive parenting attitude can feel like a lot of work. But it’s also when you need it the most.
“Positive parenting is the best way to start rough mornings because it’s really ‘investment’ parenting,” says Kate Orson, a Hand-in-Hand instructor and author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children. “Because it’s an investment that deepens connnection with our child, it improves our relationship with them and will make future mornings easier, too.”
As you’re trying—really trying, despite a sleep-deprived night—to start the day on the right foot, here are a few positive parenting techniques that can help:
1. Say “it’s going to be a great day!” Cheesy as it may feel if your day got off to a rough start, research shows positive thinking truly has the power to transform your day. (As added benefits, optimism can also improve your skill sets.) Our kids can feel that too.
2. Give them a hug: The warm and fuzzy feeling we get from a good embrace isn’t just in our minds. Studies show hugs cause our bodies to release oxytocin, which is known as the “love hormone.” What better way to turn around a sour mood?
3. Turn on some music, not the TV: To get mornings off to their best starts, save your news fix for later in the day. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says music can help ward off anxiety and depression whereas television is linked to hyperactivity. (Screen time does have a place. To start the day off right, you may just want to save it for later.)
4. Share some unstructured time: Orson says one of the best ways to start the day is by spending 10 or so minutes on play with your child while you shower them in affection. “Although it may seem counterintuitive to spend time hanging out when you are anxious to get out of the door, it actually saves time,” she says. “When children are happy and more connected, they are more likely to cooperate with your requests.”
5. Use a visual checklist to encourage accomplishment: A significant part of positive parenting is empowering your children and checklists are a great way to do that—even for little ones who can’t yet read. According to the Illinois Early Learning Project, “Using schedules or checklists are supports for children who benefit from knowing the routine and self-assessing their ability to follow the routine and typical expectations.”
6. Offer two or three options for their clothes: Another great way to help your children feel empowered in the morning is by giving them (at least some) independence with their clothing selection. You can ensure the outfits are still appropriate for weather and other conditions by streamlining the options ahead of time.
7. If your child isn’t cooperating, take a step back and shift the focus by finding something to laugh about: A situation where kiddos aren’t cooperating can quickly go from bad to worse if they notice a rise in anxiety. To counteract that, Orson suggests finding a reason to laugh. “For example, if your toddler won’t put on their clothes then you try doing it in a playful way with socks on hands, and pants on head,” she says. “Then act all confused as if you don’t know how to do it properly. This kind of giggle play can quickly shift your child out of stubborn refusal and into cooperative mode.”
8. Allow your children to have quiet time with their thoughts: Rather than ushering everyone from one task to the next, allow the kids to have some quiet time, too. Although this may not progress to the level of full-blown meditation, research shows some simple meditative time has serious benefits for developing minds.
9. Say positive affirmations into the mirror: After brushing teeth or hair, make a habit of receiting uplifting phrases or mantras into the mirror with your children. Here are 12 tips for getting started with positive affirmations that benefit everyone in the family.
10. Freely use words for praise instead of just ushering them on to the next task: To us, putting clothes on correctly may seem like the easiest thing in the world. But to toddlers and little kids, that qualifies as a huge achievement! Taking the time to acknowledge that is a worthy use of time—even on rushed mornings. “Sincere and genuine praise has been shown to increase children’s motivation,” says child development psychologist Ashley Sonderlund.
11. Gather the whole family and encourage each other (even just for a brief moment): Before starting off on a busy day that may see everyone going a dozen different directions, take a few moments to round up the troops and freely share words of support with each other.
It’s never too early to get your toddler in the (so adorable) habit of telling mama, “You’ve got this.” And, with that kind of spirit, even the wildest of mornings can morph into the best of days.