Today I want to run through ideas for making life smoother in the mornings. From the moment we transition from being unconscious, into the conscious, to getting out of the door and off to school or the world outside.
Our mornings used to be the worst time of our day. They can still be really, really hard to get right, and some days I still wonder if we will even see another morning. But I have picked up some good tips and ideas over the past few years so I thought it would be good and helpful to share.
Before PDA. As in before I knew about PDA, my methods of getting up and out were limited, exhausting and probably verging on the local services needing to be called. I am rather ashamed to admit that I was a shouter. Shouting seemed to be the most successful method of getting things done, to the point where I was really just going mad. I didn’t know any better. I believed that my child was out to get me and deliberately saying no, ignoring me, not moving, not following simple asks or instruction. I believed I was a terrible parent and that everyone else in the entire world had it easy and I was failing so badly that I couldn’t admit to to anyone. Over the years I tried lots of other techniques. I remember being pretty creative and even made a wooden board with little tags and instructions that my girl could do in any order and then tag off what she had done until she was all ready to go, with a straight collar and brushed hair, spit spot. It worked for about a week. I tried pocket money and sticker charts, I tried punishments and restricting treats. It all looked so perfect on the parenting programs that were popular at that time but I couldn’t understand why these ideas just didn’t work for us. So I went back to shouting and stressing and yelling and crying until my girl was dressed and in the car. Often just crazy with my own anxiety after battle after battle. I hated myself for what I sounded like but I just could see any other way. I felt like a victim and a failure. Once out of the house, it was like a switch went on and we were all the perfect family again. So why was this happening?
Fast forward to post PDA discovery and diagnosis, which I got simultaneously as a big shock and suddenly, everything fell into place. The light had gone on and it was now up to me to keep that light on and shine it into the darkest of places until we knew how to be and how to get out of the house without as much as a raised voice. I never shouted again.
These are some of the affirmations I say to myself every morning. If I didn’t keep these beliefs in the forefront of my mind, I would default back to being a victim.
I acknowledge my child has difficulties, some of which cannot be helped.
I come from a place of love in all that I do.
I am of service in something greater than myself.
I can see through the immediate difficulty.
I am able to tap into the infinite source of love and patience within me.
I really do think that unless I hadn’t totally re thought all of my own beliefs and changed the way I went about things in general, I would still be shouty Mum, and not proud of myself. However, secondary to working on myself, I have gathered some better ways to prepare and execute the routine that is morning. So here are some ideas for anyone who is struggling in the mornings and might benefit from a re plan.
Preparation. Anything you can get done the night before will limit the amount of demands for the next day. This might include making sure all items of clothing are ready, washed and set out in order. It might mean making the packed lunch and packing the school bag. Even silly details like knowing where the hairbrush is or your car keys. Being organized does save stress and time.
Under preparation I would also make sure that I am prepared for the day. If I have something coming up that can cause my anxiety to kick in, like an appointment or extra business meetings for my husbands business, I make sure I’m prepared mentally and have some calming aids to help me. I do this because, if I set out with anxiety, it will 100% rub off immediately on my girl, and the day can be 100% harder before we have even started. So I might start with some relaxing breathing, my herbal tonic, no coffee, just a nice warm lemon and honey and maybe leave the news off and some music instead. If there is time I might go and Tap (EFT) or just spend 10 minutes in some basic yoga poses and deep breathing. Small things like this make a massive difference on how well I cope and in turn, how well my family copes.
PDA strategies. I hope you are familiar with overall PDA strategies if not, please do make yourself familiar with different ways to do things. If you parent PDA, it’s a given that you have to know how to navigate PDA in general by knowing your child’s triggers and trying clever ways not to set them off!
Motivation. Without motivation, not much gets done. The will of your child is so important. We know that PDA kids are very ‘strong willed’ but can equally lack will as well. If they are depressed or scared of something that might happen that day, their motivation will be seriously compromised. You cannot ‘make’ your child be motivated but you can help them to tap into something that does motivate them, like their special interest, or a good friend they will see that day when they are out. Setting a seed of something in the future of the day that will help them want to get going, is a really good tool. I’ve written before on motivation, please scroll down on my home page to read in more depth on this subject.
Take baby steps. Breaking things down and taking your time is a good way to go. Overwhelm can so easily set in and close everything down if the picture, the steps and the demands are too big or too frequent. Putting some space in between each task can help too, like small breaks or sips of water after each step. Don’t forget that what you might consider one task, is actually many tasks or demands. For example putting your shoes on is finding the shoe, putting your foot in and tying the laces. Motor skills may be impaired and something as simple as putting on shoes can become a huge source of anxiety. My girl is 15. She can tie laces, but the anxiety she has over this task is anxiety that we can take away if I do it for her. Doing it more or practicing it more, as our OT suggested, has not reduced her anxiety over time, it just wears out the nervous system and adrenaline systems, which if exhausted, will impair overall health as well. I’m fine with helping her, I consider it my role, my offer of help, my privilege. She might struggle with putting on shoes but when she stands up and sings or bowls over a room full of people with her astonishing insight into things I know that this is small part of who she is.
Attitude on time. We all run on time restraints and over the past few hundred years, time has become so strict and demanding. Time for this, time for that. Time slots to stop us from being free. It’s not so easy to get out of this loop, but try for a minute to imagine you are in an autistic mind, one that wants to be free, one that’s here to show us how to be free. Try to look outside the restraints of time. Time or being on time causes huge anxiety for me. I have spent a lot of time on going back to my childhood to see why time triggers me so much so I can re frame my own worries and not pass them onto my kids. I highly recommend everyone does this. I’ve written about time before too, so scroll down on my home page if you are interested.
It’s OK if we don’t go. I purposely don’t work at a regular job so I can be there for my girl on the days that are just too hard. I’m not just one of those lucky people. I chose to move to another country so I could afford to have this lifestyle. We are creative with how we eat and what we don’t have. I would rather sacrifice my career and expensive holidays to be there as a soft place to land, a stable fully present mother and guide.We have purposely chosen a school that allows down days, many others have chosen to home school so they may have the freedom to say Its OK if we don’t go. So for us, its OK if we don’t go is a do able option.
A nice breakfast in bed. We formed this as part of our routine after my girl was bedridden for 5 months. At that time, whilst I nursed her back to well health, it was all she could manage to eat breakfast before she got up and this habit has continued because it works. After a lot of gradual wake ups that go on for about an hour, my girl chooses what she would like for breakfast. A good breakfast sets her up for the day. She takes her supplements at this time and we have a really good program of pills that work to lower anxiety, steady blood sugars and help gut and brain health. All of these things work in harmony to aid a better day than if we didn’t do it.
Be on Hand to help. It is extra work, it can sometimes be a thankless existence, it might go against the grain of trying to teach independence etc, but if you can find a peaceful place in your mind to be OK with helping or assisting or doing what it takes to get out smoothly, then just do it! For us, it’s certain parts of getting dressed and gathering things that are needed for the day etc.
Sensory Issues. You will know your child’s sensory issues and these can have a huge impact on overall ability. Hopefully you will have a calming space or methods for overload and have worked out soft clothing or changes in their environment to help ease the difficulties. We have dim lights that gradually get brighter for example.
For younger ones, make it a game. This is a popular PDA strategy and it works well in the mornings when things need to go a bit quicker, we can create racing games or role play games to take the pressure and urgency away form the demands that need to be achieved. Novelty and spontaneous games or humor can be great distractions but gage the overall mood because a sudden burst into a game of hide and seek or a joke you think is funny might not be well timed and then the wheels could fall off very quickly! Here I would also add that nice music in the background can be really helpful as a distraction or calmer. I would also check there are not too many other anxiety producing noises in the background, like siblings being annoying. Check my post on siblings for ideas there.
Kind Reminders. If your child is older or likes to be independent, kind reminders might be needed. It’s easy for PDA people to get distracted or forget what they are meant to be doing. I like to ask kind questions and prompts so that it comes across as a kind chat rather than a why haven’t you, which then triggers anxiety or makes the child feel rubbish about themselves. Again, humor might work here too. Some can work with visual charts, what happens next cues etc, but PDA is likely to cause refusal because the chart or the picture can be patronizing or too much of demand in itself. Others have had success with apps that countdown or prompt things, or even a plain egg timer.
If you have read this far, then thank you! I guess that’s about all for today, but please feel free to comment below and add anything that you do to make mornings a smooth ride. The more we can share about day to day life with PDA, the more we can reach those who are really struggling. PDA should not be a struggle, once new routines and better attitudes are established, life with with PDA can be spent focusing on all the great aspects of PDA. Every day is a fresh opportunity to grow and get better at the things we want to improve.