As best I can tell, my daughter sometimes hates getting ready for school. To be clear, she doesn't hate going to school, but the morning routine itself. What's frustrating about this is that it is absolutely not consistent; some mornings she wakes up and is a perfect angel and does all the things she needs to do in order to get ready.
Other mornings, its a slow (or sometimes quick) build to an inevitable conclusion. Usually the steps are we urge her to do something, and she says 'no'. We push a bit harder and either she doubles down on the 'no' or we get what I'd call malicious compliance wherein she does it extremely slowly. This usually escalates at a speed which is kind of dependent on just how much time we have to get out the door. The level that it often escalates to is that she hits a full meltdown and starts biting, kicking, and screaming pretty much anybody within proximity and if no one is in proximity she'll move to put someone in proximity. Furthermore, she starts getting exceedingly contrary that trying to talk her down is mostly worthless unless you're good with getting bit, kicked, and screamed at a volume that'll make your ears ring.
We've tried the following things, but there hasn't really been any kind of consistent success with any of them:
- Making Lists - I strongly suspect that she has ADHD like myself and in an effort to help her, she and I wrote out a list of things that she has to do each morning as follows:
- Go potty
- Brush her teeth
- Get dressed
- Eat breakfast
- Get her hair brushed
There are additional subtasks to every one of those items, but I felt like if the list was too long it was going to feel overwhelming.
- Ongoing Punishments - Once she escalates to punching and hitting, I'll put her in her room for timeout. This isn't a great solution because she'll usually start knocking over everything in her room that she's able to; which is most things except the stuff I've mounted to the wall. Generally, I dump her in there and check every 5 minutes to see if she's burned off enough steam to calm herself down. Some days, this can take a really long time and she's been upwards of an hour late to school because of it.
I do tend to make these punishments ongoing because I generally can't make her clean things up now, but will make her do so later in the day after school's done. Additionally, I will sometimes take away other privileges for a few days (i.e. can't play with her tablet for 2 days).
Self Calming - Sesame Street along with a few books she likes to read go over a few different useful calming techniques. What I find interesting is that my younger son seems to take really well to these, but if I try them with my daughter during the escalation phase it's likely to make her even more mad (kind of like if someone says to an adult that they're overreacting); it's almost like a shortcut to the meltdown. What's interesting to me is that I will see her sometimes doing those self-calming techniques (usually giving herself a hug) and acknowledge that she's doing a good job using that but it seems like the acknowledgement just causes her to get mad and immediately stop.
Bad Mood - This was something I ripped off of the Bluey episode of the same name. In general this can only work if we have time, but even then it can become a bad feedback loop because the game has to end at some point.
Changing the Order - So I've recently tried to change the order so that she eats her breakfast first and then proceeds on the list of things above. We're only on day 2 of this effort and it's been ok so far, but I have no idea what next week will be.
Timers - One of the things that stood out to me is that she'll often sit on the potty for an excessive amount of time. I can't necessarily begrudge this, I figure it's part of her wakeup process; but it will easily go on for 20+ minutes if someone doesn't intervene. Something we've tried is telling her that we're setting a 5 minute timer and then she has to get up. This hasn't felt like it works as the timer dings, and she's just like, "Daddy the timer's done!" but this doesn't actually motivate her to wipe, get off, flush, pull up her pants, and wash her hands.
Routines - We had tried the idea of a strict routine, but this straight up doesn't work because when the kids wake up on their own is anywhere between 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM. Something else we'd tried that really didn't work was her to wake whenever she wants, but no later than an hour and fifteen minutes before school so we'd have time for the routine. The goal being that if she has to gun through her routine, she won't have any downtime to get complacent. We were about 30 minutes late with this one.
Part of the problem feels like myself. Both of my kids will love to have my attention and I love to give it to them, but on the same note I have to get to work; and the later I get to work the later in the day I will get home. But on the same note, my wife can't easily handle both of my kids if my daughter is having a meltdown as she's prone to do.
I'm kind of at a loss for what else we can practically do at this point. Are we doing the 'right' things? Is this normal for a 4-year old, and if not, what else can we do?