Taming Morning Madness

by Lisa Pawlak

School is back in session – and you may find yourself lamenting the loss of leisurely, luxurious summer mornings. Attempts to get out the door on time during early back-to-school days can be a real challenge.

How can we tame morning madness – when everyone oversleeps, the kids ignore your attempts to drag them out of bed, your son doesn’t have time for breakfast because he is too busy searching for a clean pair of socks, your daughter forgets to bring her homework to school for the third time this week and, worst of all, you find yourself with the unfortunate choice of whether to slap together some PB&Js for lunches or to actually brush your hair before leaving the house?

Don’t despair. With a little advanced planning, some evening-before prep work, and by encouraging the kids to accept greater responsibilities – you can establish a consistent routine, resulting in stress-free mornings for the whole family.

Morning Routine:

To aid in creating a smooth routine that works for your family, you may want to establish a morning timeline, posting it somewhere visible where everyone can reference it and know whether they are running on time or late.

Things to consider – how long it takes each individual to get dressed, brush teeth, have some personal bathroom time, eat a healthy breakfast, gather lunches and backpacks, put on shoes and head out the door? Because a shared bathroom can be a major point of contention, this is particularly helpful to schedule. Assigning everyone involved a time slot will help avoid related morning battles.

Once family members are accustomed to going about their morning business in a routine, timely manner, everyone will be calmer, things won’t get forgotten and morning madness will be a distant memory.

Alarm Clocks:

If you are going room-to-room every morning and individually waking everyone in the house, save yourself some time and agony. Instead, buy everyone in the household their own, personal alarm clock. A favorite character-themed option for a young child – think Star Wars or Disney Princesses – or, for a teen, an alarm that plays a favorite iPod song, will ease the transition.

Teach the kids how to set their alarms and assure them that they are mature enough now to be responsible for getting out of bed on their own. If they forget to or press snooze too many times, consider appropriate consequences. For example, you might say, “If you oversleep, I’ll help you out by waking you up, but in return you’re going to need to help me do some chores after school.”

Getting Dressed:

Do you have a little fashionista who changes five times before settling on an outfit? Let her take care of this process the evening before.

Even better, have her choose clothes for the entire week on Sunday night and place items together, either in Monday through Friday closet clothes cubbies or inside a drawer or space reserved for this purpose.

Cut down the morning rush by having your children choose her clothing the night before. Even better, have her choose clothes for the entire week on Sunday night.

Self-Serve Breakfast:

If you are a coffee drinker, invest in a programmable coffee maker and set it up before going to bed. You will thank yourself the next morning as you wake up to the smell of fresh coffee brewing.

Don’t let anyone skip breakfast. However, you don’t need to get up and cook the family a 3-course feast. Save the fancy breakfast crepes and fresh veggie frittata for the weekends and keep things simple on school days – a bowl of cereal with milk and fruit, a slice of toast with peanut butter, a yogurt smoothie, a hardboiled egg (prepared in advance) with a bran muffin. Another easy option, if available, is to eat breakfast with your kids in their school cafeteria.

From a very young age, kids can prepare their own breakfast – encourage this. Put kid-friendly plates, utensils and cups where they can easily and safely reach them. Give clear, general instructions on several appropriate breakfast options then let the kids choose and help themselves each morning. Most kids enjoy the sense of pride that comes with taking on the responsibility of meal preparation.

Lunch Boxes and Backpacks:

It is no surprise that the more you do the evening before, the easier it will be to get out the door stress-free the next morning.

If you make lunch for your kids, or if they make their own, don’t wait until the morning to put everything together. A sandwich, piece of fruit, and drink can easily be packed into a lunch box and stored in the fridge overnight. Regardless of who prepares the lunch, make it clear that the kids are responsible for remembering to bring their lunchboxes, along with their backpacks, in the morning.

If your child forgets his lunch, resist the urge to rescue him. He may be extra-hungry after school – in which case, his lunch awaits his return. More likely, the school will feed him, but if that happens, your child should be responsible for the bill. He can pay it out of his allowance or do chores to make up for the cost of the unplanned school lunch.

As for backpacks, as soon as your kids finish homework, they should repack and place them on hooks or in cubbies by the front door. This way, homework and school supplies will be remembered the next morning.

Getting Out The Door:

If you drive the kids to school, state the exact time you are planning to leave. For every minute that you have to sit and wait for someone, consider charging that passenger a fee, just like a waiting taxi would. One dollar per minute might motivate them to be on time. If they don’t have the money to pay the fee, allow them to work it off with chores later in the day. If you walk your child to school, you can take a similar approach.

A school bus, of course, won’t wait for your child. If he misses the bus and you need to drive him to school, be sure he compensates you for your time in some manner. If he normally walks himself to school and is late getting out the door, consider simply letting him be late and support the school’s consequences. Discuss strategies with his teacher, and include your child in the conversation, especially if this is an ongoing problem and the entire classroom is disrupted by tardiness.

Consistency in managing your family’s morning routine is crucial to the creation of stress-free mornings. Simple steps like individual alarm clocks, establishing self-serve breakfast options, preparing clothing, lunches, and backpacks the evening before, and – most importantly – allowing the kids to feel the consequences of forgetting an item or being late – will help your family tame the morning madness.

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