‘Mornings were just a mess’, Rita, a neighbourhood friend, told me over coffee. She had recently started working with a task board at home. ‘Well, what can you do. My daughter is going to day-care, but this year she has to do everything by herself. Get dressed, brush her teeth, eat - everything by herself. And it takes so LONG. Once, we used to dress her ourselves, give her a bottle on the way to day care, and if you get there a bit late, who cares?”
‘Suddenly, we need to be on time,’ Rita continued, taking another sip, ‘and keep to a schedule. We have to be at the day care centre by eight o’clock. Everything just takes longer, and every day there’s something new. Today it’s pigtails, tomorrow it’s a pony tail. Maybe a dress. No, a t-shirt. And a bag. Every morning we delay far too long. Sometimes I even get the feeling it’s done on purpose, and of course when I do get mad at her, afterwards I feel bad with myself. Sometimes she doesn’t brush her teeth, or she forgets her library book.’
‘And Michelle isn’t a morning person at the best of times.’ said Rita, taking the biscuit I offered. ‘So most mornings we try to hurry her up and she gets annoyed and starts crying. The thing is, that I’m to blame as well. Stuff that should be second nature to me by now, like making a sandwich for her in the morning, I forget. The pressure gets to me as well, and we don’t always notice what needs to be fixed in the evening, because we’ve forgotten already, or we’re busy getting her ready for bed. Don’t forget, we’ve also got the younger one to look after. And having a baby means that you don’t always sleep at night.. In short, it’s a mess.’
‘It was hard for all of us to understand how the morning should be organised, and how to teach Michelle how to follow the rules, and we always arrive late at the day care centre. It’s just not fun. I don’t want to give up on a hug and a kiss before she goes off, but it’s just not fun when you are rushing all the time. We tried getting her clothes ready the night before, but then she’d change her mind each morning and want something else.’
‘So?’, I asked, offering her another biscuit, ‘How did you work this one out?’
‘Well’, said Rita, ‘At one of our daily meetings, now that we’ve gotten used to the task board, I raised the issue. We all understood that it wasn’t fun. I sat down with Michelle, and together we wrote down all the tasks we have every morning, so that we don’t forget anything, and so we would be able to organise them better. Michelle drew these:
- A girl getting up at 7 am
- A girl getting dressed
- A girl taking a bag
- Hat and scarf
- Mother making a sandwich
‘From there it was easy’, said Rita, brushing the last of crumbs from the table. ‘We put the tasks up on the board, and simply followed them through one by one. It was more fun than efficient the first time around, but we were all pulling together for a common goal. Of course we completely forgot about taking the library book, but we immediately added that to the board the next day.’
‘And did you get to the day care on time?’ I asked.
‘No, we were late again.’, smiled Rita, ‘but we promised to try again the next day. That evening we talked about how much fun Michelle had doing the tasks in the morning, with me accompanying her, and I realised how much I enjoyed cooperating with her. In fact, the best thing that came out of the challenging morning that we had, was the time we spent together.’
‘Michelle suggested we try again, and we moved the notes to the fridge in the kitchen, so they would be in front of us all the time as we get ready in the morning. This time, everything went great, and we arrived on time! Just before I kissed Michelle goodbye, I asked her to think of a fun task to add to the board. That afternoon she drew a book, and added it as a task - she wanted me, not her father, to read her a book every night.’
‘So why do you think this way worked?’, I asked Rita.
‘Well’, she said, ‘it’s not that mornings are impossible, or that we have lots of kids. It’s just that we had tasks that we didn’t pay them much attention. The task board isn’t magic - it just helps you focus and share with Michelle, understand that the morning tasks belong to all of us. As soon as we were each responsible for our own tasks and we put them on the board. we saw things differently, who does what and when. In the end, I did move some of the tasks to the evening, like getting the bag ready, and we saw that her father can make sandwiches earlier in the morning. In short, everyone contributed a bit, we saved time, and felt better.’
So here are a few tips that you can learn from Rita’s story:
- It’s better not to be under pressure.
- When things are clear, it’s easier to improve. When we and our child know what’s expected from us, we will be able to complete the tasks and track our results. In this case, Rita defining the tasks with Michelle and placing them on the task board in plain sight did the trick.
- Prepare in advance. Understand the main tasks that you need to complete, maybe move some of them to an earlier time. Being prepared could also mean preparing in advance a list of tasks that need to be done the next day.
- Work with your children. When the children aren’t just following instructions, but they are also active participants in making the tasks lists, it’s much easier to improve things. Making the lists together with the children, and having them place their tasks on the board makes them feel the tasks are theirs as well.
- Help the children get ready. Accompany them with their tasks, so they understand what’s expected from them.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Learn what did and didn’t work. The fact that it didn’t work the first time isn’t a reason not to try again.
- Don’t forget to have fun along the way! Hugging and kissing ARE important. Without that, any improvement that you achieve will be temporary.