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Moving from Less Structured to More Structured

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I made a mistake way early in my elder son's life: I didn't establish a regular routine. He gets up when he wants, eats his breakfast when he wants, chooses what he wants to eat... THEN we finally get to start school. When it's time for lunch break, we go through this "what are you going to eat?" process again until he finally feels full. Then I usually give him some time to play with his brother until we can finally get back to work to finish our day.


So the problem is multi-faceted:

1) no set wake-up time

2) I let the kids decide what to eat for breakfast and lunch which sometimes takes too much time making the decision and then "finding" enough to fill their growing tummies.

3) This sets us up for an irregular schedule making us feel rushed once we finally get started and putting us [or me at least] into a "mood"


I'm looking for suggestions on how to gently establish a routine. The boys do go to bed at reasonably regular hours [though the elder boy often reads in bed at night; I hate to stop this, but....]. The younger one has been getting up REALLY early despite no changes in his going to bed time. But he's pretty good about going to the playroom and playing quietly by himself until one of us gets up to feed him breakfast and get him changed.

I've tried before to suggest having a family breakfast ["We're all going to have X for breakfast."] but elder son balked, and I think younger will protest now. Still, I think that makes the most sense, unless elder is willing to get up earlier and feed himself.


I know I need to have a family discussion about this, and come up with a family plan. I just want to be ready with suggestions for the inevitable objections.



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Perhaps you don't need a family breakfast or lunch as much as you need 2 choices for meals. Monday, you get oatmeal or grits. Tuesday, this cereal or that cereal. Wednesday, Muffins or pancakes. etc. If you're not full, you get more of whatever you chose. Even if one child gets up early or late, they can still eat whatever everyone else ate.


But I would have a time limit on getting up. So perhaps the latest the boy needs to get up is 8 so that gives you an hour to wake up and eat before starting school at 9.


Routines are kind of like anything else. You have to just jump in and do them for a week or two before they get to be habit and people stop balking at them. You just have to push through the balkiness.

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Re: meals, plan choices they like into your grocery shopping and cooking. Then make a list on the fridge or chalkboard of each meal's choices (limit to 3 for ease) and let them choose:



Yogurt with granola

Fruit, cereal, and eggs

Pancakes and sausage



Turkey sandwich with chips and carrots

Peanut butter sandwich with apple and yogurt

Chicken salad with lettuce and tomato



Monday- taco bar

Tuesday- chicken noodle soup and homemade bread

Wednesday- pork roast with baked potato and salad

Thurs- etc etc


With wake up time, just set the new standard and the. Enforce him getting up at that time like you would any other behavior or disobedience issue. If this means establishing an earlier lights out time, do that by getting him upstairs for his reading time earlier.



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I agree with you that it will benefit everyone to establish a better routine. I would definitely have a family meeting to discuss all of the concerns. For example, you could ask the boys what types of things they would like for breakfast and make a list. From that list I would tell the boys that you will be deciding what they will be having that day for breakfast. In the beginning you could set up rewards for cooperation. You could let the boys help make decisions during the family meeting. It will help them feel like they have some input. They need to learn that the ultimate decision is yours.


The key to all of this is consistency. Of course that is the most difficult part!



Elise in NC

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I don't know what ages we are talking, but I was n a similar boat last year with my older boy. After all was said and dome we weren't starting until 10 (or later). Finally I said he had to be up by 8, school at 9. I still let him mak his own breakfast, but we start a 9 whether he's "done" or not.


Lunch is at 11:30 and you have an hour to eat.

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I wouldn't take away the meal choices too much because there will almost certainly be big pushback about the loss of choice and power there. Instead, I would either do what others are suggesting and make the choices limited or do the meal planning with him ahead of time. Who is making all this food anyway? My kids fend for themselves for first breakfast, but it's cereal, waffles I've made and frozen, muffins I've made beforehand, yogurts, fruit, etc. They can just get it themselves and they do so before I ever get up. If I had to stand there and wait for them to choose and then cook on demand, we would have a huge problem.

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Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the supportive tone and nature of your replies! All of this is good. I like the idea of the kids making a list, and then getting to help set up the menu. Maybe our "health" lesson each week should be helping me make a menu plan and the accompanying shopping list!

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I think focusing on one thing at a time is helpful, too. Maybe this week it's getting up at a new time - weekends included. I've started getting up when my husband leaves at 6:30 so I can drink coffee and play online or read. Then I wake the kid up at 7:30. We have an hour to eat, get dressed, do a morning chore like empty the dishwasher or recycling, and scoop the cat box. We like to play dolls or stuffies - well, she likes it, and I like doing what she likes and I love the imaginative stuff she invents - so we do that for an hour before school, but whateve dawdling time during the morning routine hour comes out of the playtime.


Gotta go - doll time!

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A couple suggestions -


- if your son is old enough to understand, start by sitting him down and having a heart to heart about how routines affect the entire household. He may not agree, but if he is old enough to understand he should at least know what your ideas on this are, even if he doesn't want to follow along. That at least gives you a starting point for compromise :-)


- meals - at our house, the rule is I fix ONE meal - if you don't want to eat what I fix, you still have to eat one bite of everything I fixed (this is mostly for lunch and dinner), and then you are perfectly welcome to fix something else for yourself (and clean it up!). Even my 6 year old is perfectly able to wash an apple and grab a cheese stick and make a pb&j. I instituted this after nearly driving myself CRAZY making essentially 4 different meals for every meal trying to please everyone. The end result is that for breakfast, pretty much we all fix our own now, which is fine by me.


- don't try to fix all this at once. Pick the one thing that seems to be the most disruptive first. Like someone else said, expect balkiness. Be prepared to stand firm on your core idea, but also look for ways to tweak it. We had an issue last year with DD wanting to play around for too long in the AM before she got to work. I tried to establish a strict 8:30AM school start time. This led to a lot of arguing about stupid nonessential details like whether gathering her books should be done before or after school start time. Finally I realize she was balking at the clock and the loss of control. Now the rule is less a schedule than a routine - she gets up, showers, eats breakfast, and gets to work, she just does it on her own timetable now. I still have what I wanted - she's not playing around all morning - and she still feels in control of her life. Interestingly, she usually has schoolwork started by 8AM now :-) So keep looking for ways to let everyone be a winner. This is not always fast, but it 'sticks' better in the long run than mom trying to impose an outside schedule that everyone hates. You have to keep tweaking a lot at first, just keep your main goal in mind.

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