Psychologists and researchers refer to troubles with a person’s “get up and go” as issues with “motivation” or a lack of “behavioural activation”. Behavioural activation is important and it is wise to keep an eye out for the child who is straggling in the morning.
Not getting up and getting a move on at the start of each day means that there is less of a chance that we will do, meet, taste, touch, hear, see and feel things that feel good or are rewarding.
We all have things that we want in life and things that reward us. When we are activated, we move towards our rewards. We can start to feel good just by anticipating the good stuff we are working towards.
We feel not-so-good when our goals are thwarted and we sense our satisfaction will be less, or the good stuff feels like it may totally disappear from our reach. If our goals are blocked, we start to be less excited about chasing them. Our drive can start to diminish and we can begin to withdraw.
It is normal to feel like withdrawing when goals are shifted further away. However, when we withdraw, we lessen the chances of achieving things and being satisfied. We also reduce the chance that we will get exposed to lovely, natural, sometimes-completely-accidental rewards and pleasantries – someone being kind, watching people do something silly or funny (because, let’s face it, human behaviour can be hilarious) or seeing, smelling, or hearing something beautiful in nature.
Lack of the accidental rewards, as well not being able to get the things we hoped for, can make a person even less likely to want to get up and go. A lonely, reward-less, unsatisfying cycle can begin.
Sometimes it gets to the point where people become quite slow and have real difficulties gaining pleasure from things that usually motivate them. They can even be clinically depressed. So, is your child’s early morning struggle normal, noteworthy or naughty?
If your child is struggling in the morning, it is wise to reflect on a few things….
- What’s your child’s normal pattern and temperament? Are they, and have they always, been a little slow to get going in the morning? If the early morning dawdling or straggling is new or different for them, then something may be going on.
- Is your child approaching adolescence? Adolescents and the onset of puberty bring many changes to the body and brain. It is quite normal for a teen to switch their preferred waking hours with a tendency to go to sleep later and rise much later in the day.
- Has your child not quite been themselves? Has their appetite or mood changed substantially? Are they having problems achieving the things they want to achieve or is their “flatness” causing big and repeated problems with their routines, friendships and school?
If you feel that the slowness is not usual and not a sign of puberty and you think there are other issues with mood and appetite that are causing big dramas, then it is noteworthy. You should strongly consider a trip to the family doctor. The doctor will likely do some tests to rule out anything biological and may think it is appropriate to get some psychological help for your child.
If the early morning dawdling is more of a nuisance, then consider some changes that will make getting up more exciting and more rewarding. Different things are going to excite different people. Different things will also excite children of different ages.
If your child is in their pre-school or early school years, consider a game of “beat the buzzer”. Discuss and maybe draw with your child the jobs your child needs to do in the morning. Typically, these might include – get dressed, eat breakfast, clean your teeth and pack your lunch. In the morning when the child wakes, set the kitchen timer or the timer on your phone for a time that you think the jobs could be completed. As the child finishes each job, they can tick it off your list of drawings. If they finish all of the jobs before the timer goes off….then there is a prize. The prize might be time on the computer, TV time, getting to sit in the front seat of the car (if it is safe to do so) or a ticket or sticker that can be saved towards a bigger treat – a movie, special lunch order, or a friend over.
Sometimes we need some artificial rewards to get things up and going for awhile until routine and natural rewards kick in.
Be sure to keep mornings pleasant and fun and always tell people how wrapped you are that they are getting things done easily. Try to avoid an angry, punishing, reward-less morning. It would be perfectly normal and healthy that no one wants to get out of bed for that!