Link copied to clipboard

If getting everyone up and out the door on time is becoming more and more difficult every day, you’re justified in feeling frustrated and angry.

But you’ve probably also noticed that yelling at the kids and nagging them isn’t working. It doesn’t get the day launched happily and it makes you feel worse, not better. So what can you do differently? How can you quit being a witch and still get the children to the bus stop on time?


A good start to the day begins the night before. The time to finish homework is before going to bed, not after getting up from it. Make it a habit (for you) to check on homework well before bedtime to make certain that nothing’s been forgotten. Evening also is the time to check the backpack for notes that need your signature and to inquire about what’s going on at school the next day. The time to find out about the field trip to a marsh for which boots and gloves will be needed is well before the morning light.


In addition, the night before is when you need to know about issues your child might have about clothes for the next day (is it school spirit day and the only shirt in a school color is in the wash?) or about a broken zipper on her jacket and other issues. Make it a habit, as the day winds down, to talk over the next day with your child in time for her to remember what she’s going to need or want. If it helps you, create a checklist:

Ask your child to set out his backpack and other things needed for school the next day. If your has troubled deciding what to wear in the morning, help him to make his choices at night and lay out clothes, ready to go, the evening before.

Make certain kids get to bed and turn off the light early enough to allow for enough sleep before morning. Children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep throughout the elementary school  years and teens need nine to 10 hours. Many children don’t get all the sleep they need, and this makes it very hard for them to wake up on time and feel alert and ready.

In the morning, make certain you and your kids get up with plenty of time to do what needs to be done before the day begins. This includes dressing and breakfasting, of course, but it might also include walking the dog, feeding the cat, brushing snow off the car, and other routine tasks. If you’re always rushed, you might just need more time. Get up early enough to have time for what is needed.

Keep off distracting electronics. Make it a rule that the television and computer stay off, tablets and handhelds put away until after the kids are dressed and fed, brushed and organized, ready to go. This has the double advantage of limiting distractions to necessary tasks and also adding an incentive to accomplish tasks efficiently.

Give everyone a couple minutes’ warning ahead of the actual out-the-door moment. Set a timer to beep at the right time and then reset it for two minutes later. Kids tend to obey the impersonal sound of a timer better than your own voice.

Finally, factor in the time needed to actually get going. You know this isn’t instantaneous! Depending on the weather, children may need more or less time to get their coats and boots on. If you’ve got everything ready the night before, no one will need to hunt for essentials. But kids – especially preschoolers – need time to pull on their jackets and zip them up. Give them the time they need to do it themselves if they must.

Once you’ve got things down to a routine, your mornings will flow like a gentle breeze. Get the day off right for everyone with a little planning and care.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

The key focus these days in education circles is on “executive processing” skills of persistence, attention, and self-control. The truth is that learning the alphabet and numbers, even learning to read, are fairly simple for a teacher to orchestrate.

More difficult and more important are development of children’s attitudes towards learning. The problem has been that no one knew if some children are just born more disposed to learn or if teachers could do things to help executive processing skills along.

Now we have an idea. A study just published in School Psychology Quarterly found that teachers who support a “positive emotional tone” in their classrooms have students with better ability to pay attention, to stay on task, and to control themselves and who wind up learning more.

Researchers measured the achievement and executive processing ability of 800 preschool children enrolled in 60 schools in five school districts across the Southeastern United States. They also measured interactions between teachers and these children. Children whose teachers were more positive and less negative in their interactions developed children’s executive processing skills and their academic abilities. Lead researcher Dale Farran said, “Oddly, a positive tone in the classroom does not just affect children’s social development. The more positively welcoming classrooms are, the more children are going to learn in them.”

“Positive interactions” include being aware of children’s likely reactions to learning assignments and being proactive in guiding them to effective behavior before disruptive behavior occurs. What the researchers call “behavior disapproval” – signaling to a child that she is doing something wrong – has a negative effect on learning. Farran said, “The teacher must anticipate what’s coming up and not redirect after the fact. It’s a more subtle kind of planning that takes a lot of skill on the part of teachers.”

It’s a straight line between how teachers interact with children and the development of children’s ability to learn and their actual level of learning. Positive, proactive teachers get better results.

What does this mean for us? We usually have little control over how our child’s teacher does her job. What can we do?

  1. If you do have a choice, choose a preschool experience or a teacher who is socially skillful and child-centered. Look for teachers who are calm and who seem able to think one step ahead of the kids.
  2. If your child’s preschool or kindergarten teacher seems harsh and demanding, strongly consider other options. Executive processing skills and attitudes towards learning form early and last a lifetime. Early learning should be positive. If your child’s situation isn’t, then see if you can find another classroom for him.
  3. Practice positive interactions at home. You know your child even better than her teacher does, so you have an advantage. You understand what she will find difficult, where she is likely to get confused, and when she is likely to give up on a task. Be one step ahead of her. Guide her development of persistence, attention, and self-control by being positive and proactive, not negative and reactive.

Keep in mind how important executive processing skills are, for getting along at school and also for academic success.

Pay attention. Be persistent in your guidance of your child. And exert self-control so your guidance is positive, not negative.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

Has this ever happened to you? You ask a friend a question and get a response that’s not really an answer. It’s sort of vague. So you ask again and get a different, equally vague reply. You’d like to know, yes or no, but you’re left unsure. You’re stuck, unable to know what to do, since you don’t know her answer.

If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, then maybe you can appreciate what it’s like sometimes to be a kid, especially a kid of sensitive, caring parents who hate to say “no.” It can be frustrating and confusing. Sometimes being in this situation feels like having a license to do whatever you want, since you can’t get a clear answer from mom and dad.

A child asks, “May I have a cookie?” Her parent says, “Why don’t you go play outside?” Any child would be confused by this: did Mom not hear me clearly? Did she mean, “Take a cookie outside”?

Another child asks, “Can I go play with Roger and Molly?” His parent says, “Did you clean your room?” Most kids would interpret this to mean, “if your room is clean – or when your room is clean – you may go.” But maybe that’s not what Dad meant. Maybe he was just trying to delay saying “no.”

Many of us hate to say “no.” We don’t want to stifle our children and we hate to deny them anything. We want them to be happy. And we think that saying “no” will make our children unhappy.

In addition, sometimes we realize that our impulse to say “no” is purely arbitrary. There’s no real reason why playing with Roger and Molly isn’t okay, but we just don’t have time right now to deal with it. It’s easier to just say “no.” But because saying “no” for no good reason seems unfair, we don’t want to say it. So we say something else.

Here’s the thing, though. Being told “no” isn’t what makes children unhappy. What makes children unhappy is being ignored or deceived. It’s much better to simply say, “no, I don’t think so” than to string a child along with a vague response. If you can give the reason for the no, so much the better: “No cookie. It’s too close to dinner time,” is a clear response. Even “No, I don’t think you can go play with Roger and Molly. I’m just too busy right now to even think about that” is more honest than linking play with a clean room.

Sometimes we avoid saying “no” because we don’t want the arguments we think will follow. But arguments are part of being a parent – both the differences of opinion that naturally occur between children and grownups, and the responsibility to teach how to argue. Yes, arguments are a teaching opportunity. When we clearly say “no” and give our reason, we open the door to a respectful discussion of the importance to the child of what she asked for and the importance to us of our reasons for saying “no.” If we are going to guide our children, we have to be ready to tell them “no” once in a while and hear them out when they argue back.

If you’ve been vague in your answers in the past, try being more direct. If you’ve been arbitrary, saying “no” without any reason and closing off discussion, try being more respectful. See if your children don’t respond by being more reasonable in the future.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

It’s pretty well-established that being happy goes along with being healthy. Having a positive attitude, even laughing every day, has been linked to everything from more friends to fewer colds. A new study in Psychological Science offers a clue why this is… and suggests that keeping your children happy may be the secret to keeping them healthy.

The study worked with middle-aged adults. It began by recording participants’ activity level in the central nervous system responsible for regulating internal organs, heartbeat, and emotional activity. Participants were also asked to keep track of their emotional highs and lows and their level of social connection for two months. During that time, half the participants were enrolled in a program intended to increase their level of happiness and well-being.

Researchers found that study participants who got the boost to their happiness levels also reported more pleasant emotions and greater connection to others. Not only that, a retest of their body systems showed they were more healthy and better functioning. Participants who received the happiness training were also more physically active, ate better, and indulged in fewer bad habits than they had before. Being happy acted like a vitamin, boosting overall emotional and physical well-being.

What does this mean for us? Well, of course, this is just one study and the participants were not children. But boosting children’s feelings of happiness doesn’t cost us anything. And it just might pay off with better behavior and even better health. What does being happy mean to a child?

It doesn’t mean getting everything he wants. That’s not happiness. For children, being happy means feeling capable and confident. It means being treated with respect and warmth. It means knowing that someone cares very much. Happy children are children whose parents pay attention and are happy people themselves. Happy children come from happy families… and, it seems like, healthy families as well.

Along with the usual daily vitamins, make sure your children get a big dose of the most important vitamin of all – happiness. This vitamin H might be exactly what the doctor ordered for good development.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, is available in bookstores now.