Parent: “Good morning, sweetie. Breakfast is ready – come get it before it gets cold!”
Child: “Get out of my room! “
Mornings can be quite stressful when you’re dealing with a grumpy child. Morning grouches can range all the from snappy and irritable to rude, mean and/or aggressive. They may be also be contrary, uncooperative or outright defiant. In many cases, they can spoil the day before it’s even started.
Sometimes morning grouches are totally pleasant people at any other hour of the day; sometimes they are the logical manifestation of a routinely negative temperament. Whether they are full time grumps or just morning grumps, parents need to know how to get them up and running.
What can parents do with children who are grumpy or hostile upon awakening? Consider the following tips:
Your Child Simply isn’t a Morning Person
It’s the same for children as it is for adults: some are night owls; others are morning people. Whether it’s innate personality, or an inborn biological clock, it may be best to understand that the youngster is “morning-challenged.” It’s O.K. to accept some morning moodiness, but do not accept bad behavior – including rudeness, violence or any other unacceptable behavior. It’s O.K. if the child cannot greet you with smiles and sunny cheer. It’s not O.K. if the child is unpleasant or mean.
Consider Sleep Factors
Some children and teens are miserable in the morning because they are sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation can occur as a result of too little sleep (going to bed too late), but it can also occur as a result of poor quality sleep (i.e. caused by sleep apnea or other sleeping disorders). If your child is going to sleep too late, take steps to make sure that he or she goes to bed earlier. However, if your child is going to sleep at the right time, consider speaking to your child’s doctor about the morning issues and ask for a sleep assessment. What you might have judged to be poor behavior might actually be a health disorder.
Make it Pleasant
In less drastic cases, the creation of morning rituals may be enough to ward off the morning grumps. Some children wake up stressed and/or anxious about the day ahead. Rituals are very soothing, especially for the very young. If you have a young child who has mood issues in the morning, perhaps charting a structured morning routine can help. Use your imagination and make it fun as well as easy to follow: songs, poems, and stories may help move the morning routine along. For school-age kids, read a couple of knock-knock jokes instead of offering the traditional “time to get up” notice. Consider using a funny or fun alarm clock – this can work nicely for teens too. Or, use a graduated alarm clock that uses light and pleasant tones to gently awaken the slumbering child. Play the child’s favorite music on speakers. Keep the atmosphere light and positive. Spray the room with calming essential oils or – in the case of aggressive morning kids – Rescue Remedy spray. When your child does show any sign of improvement, make sure to offer acknowledgement, praise and even reward – you want to encourage him to continue to work in the right direction.
Use Discipline if Necessary
Some kids (and adults!) are rude in the morning simply because they can be. No one is stopping them. And yet, these same youngsters suddenly improve their ways when someone “lays down the law.” Showing a zero tolerance for morning abuse, backed up by appropriate consequences, can stop morning abuse in its tracks. Remember, you’re not asking your child to feel happy about having to get up in the morning; you are only demanding that the child act in a respectful manner no matter how tired, irritated or displeased he or she might be feeling. Use the 2X-Rule to structure a plan of discipline. The next time your child is verbally abusive or otherwise disrespectful in the morning, tell him or her the new rule: “It’s not O.K. to speak to me in an unpleasant tone of voice or to say unpleasant words because everyone deserves to be treated with respect at all times. If you are in a bad mood in the morning, that is fine, but you need to speak and act respectfully nonetheless.” Then, when the child behaves inappropriately on another day, repeat the rule and add the warning of consequences to come. For instance, “If you are in a bad mood in the morning, that is fine, but you need to speak and act respectfully nonetheless. And from now on, when you behave this way, such & such consequence will occur.” Name a specific negative consequence (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more details about the 2X-Rule and for ideas about selecting age-appropriate consequences). On the third occasion of rudeness or lack of cooperation, apply the consequence. Use the same consequence as long as you are seeing improvement in the morning rudeness but, if after 3 or 4 times of using the same consequence there is still no improvement, change the consequence and try again.
Consult a Professional
If you have tried all these interventions and your child is still grumpy upon awakening, do consider speaking to your child’s pediatrician about the issue.