Mornings With Middleschoolers

Mornings with Middle Schoolers

Waking Up the Middle Schooler: Navigating Natural Consequences for Morning Motivation

Getting your middle schooler out of bed in the morning can feel like a daily battle, but there's a strategic approach that can not only instill responsibility but also motivate positive change. Let's delve into the concept of natural consequences and how to leverage them effectively:

Natural Consequences are the results of less desirable behavior. Your teen may not be experiencing these consequences of their behavior if you are stepping in to relieve them of the stress that their behavior causes them and the family. Using this middle school wake up experience as an example, the natural consequences will likely include having to rush through their morning, missing breakfast, and feeling groggy during the day. By the time they hit 11, 12, and 13, your child is well aware of how to set an alarm. It's time to let them take the reins on waking up for school. Natural consequences play a crucial role here — if they slip up, the consequences that naturally follow can be powerful motivators to ensure it doesn't happen again. 

Natural consequences require healthy boundaries on your part. Remember, their choices and behaviors are not yours to own. Resist the urge to rescue them from the stress of being behind schedule. Allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions. This isn't about creating a rift but instilling confidence in their capability to handle responsibilities independently. 

The key is not just about consequences but also motivating a genuine desire for change. Engage your middle schooler in discussions about responsibility, the importance of punctuality, and the long-term benefits of being proactive. Help them connect the dots between their actions and positive outcomes. If you find that natural consequences are not enough to set positive change in motion, consider a progressive change strategy. 

Breaking the behavior change down into steps from point A to point B will help your preteen see the path to the desired outcomes and make the changes less impactful and easier to achieve. An example of a plan may be to set an initial wake-up time that is slightly earlier than their current wake-up time by 15 minutes. Encourage the student to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night to adjust their sleep schedule gradually. After two weeks, set the wake-up time to the desired schedule for school. From here, continue to increase bedtime by 15 minutes each week until an adequate amount of sleep is achieved. You can see how this is different from a cold-turkey change for the preteen’s nighttime routine. 

Motivating your preteen to change their behavior may require a healthy dollop of praise or a reward system that moves in increments closer to the desired behavior. Provide verbal praise for waking up on time, being ready for school, and completing morning tasks independently. If you are wondering, they are not too old for a sticker chart! Often, bringing in the visual, tangible chart for the refrigerator is helpful for that first week. It reminds you to be consistent and to praise them for their effort. If you are finding your preteen is unmotivated to make this kind of change, they may benefit from a reward system. Making positive changes is difficult and we all have areas of our lives where we utilize a reward system to help ourselves perform. Rewards can include:

     - Small treats (e.g., favorite snacks)

     - Extra screen time

     - Choose a family activity for the weekend

     - Special privileges (e.g., choosing dinner, staying up slightly later on weekends)

After assessing your ability to allow natural consequences to impact your middle schooler and working hard at upping your praise game, it may be that your teen is still unmotivated to make a positive change. Rather than resorting to extreme measures that may lead to unintended consequences, it's essential to establish consequences ahead of time. Consequences work best when they:

      - Are predetermined and understood in advance.

      - Align with the "crime" (in this case, not waking up on time).

      - Are consistently implemented.

Consider consequences like limiting phone usage. Tools such as OurPact can help enforce app restrictions, creating a tangible connection between behavior and consequences. Financial consequences, like fines or allowance restrictions, can also be implemented.

Have regular check-ins to discuss progress, address any challenges, and celebrate achievements. Consistency is key! Routines are very difficult to change and take time. Be patient and understanding during the adjustment period. Periodically review the plan with the middle schooler to ensure its effectiveness. Navigating the mornings with your middle schooler involves a delicate balance of natural consequences, motivation for change, and maintaining healthy boundaries. By employing these strategies, you not only address the immediate challenge but also equip your child with valuable life skills for the future.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep in Middle and High School Students.

  2. Kuhlman K, Chiang J, Bower J, et al. Sleep problems in adolescence are prospectively linked to later depressive symptoms via the cortisol awakening response. Development and Psychopathology. 2020;32(3):997-1006. doi:10.1017/S0954579419000762

  3. Chung RJ. Teen Mental Health: How to Know When Your Child Needs Help. American Academy of Pediatrics.