With almost no exceptions, when families speak to me about the most stressful part of their week, they will talk about the morning rush. No matter if the family is big or small, the reality of having a relatively short space of time to have everyone out of bed, dressed, groomed, fed and in the car on time is daunting for even the most experienced of parents.
If you think about it, there is only really 1 hour of productive time to work with on a regular school day morning. That is not long and it doesn’t make allowances for those amongst us who are not at our best or most productive first thing in the morning! With such a short window to get so much done, some clever planning as well as keeping to a consistent routine can make all the difference in getting you and your children to where they need to be 5 minutes early rather than 5 minutes late.
For every family, the morning routine looks different. That will depend on the demands on them time wise, where everyone needs to get to geographically and how well the individual family members can be self-sufficient in the morning! No one will know your family dynamic better than you and much of your success in the mornings will depend on having realistic expectations for each member of the family. As far as your children go, they are no different from adults in that some will thrive in the morning and others may be slower to get moving. For children who struggle with mornings, it is a good idea to avoid giving extra chores or expectations.
Much of what actually needs to be done in the morning can be set up the night before. Some examples include preparing lunch for the next day, setting out everyone’s clothing and ensuring that school bags are packed. One idea that can work really well is to include some of these “chores” on a visual schedule which is run through on each school night and that your child can earn tokens/ stickers/ pocket money for doing each day.
Routine does not have to be about time, but rather about creating behaviour associations with certain situations. This is true for all pre-morning preparation and also for getting things done in the morning. There are also many jobs” in the morning routine which children are capable of doing for themselves. This of course needs to be implemented in an age appropriate way and what is achievable may different for each child. Examples of these “jobs” include, brushing teeth or making their own beds. If they do their chores, you may consider rewarding them with points or something small until the behaviour becomes a habit. If they don’t do whatever has been asked of them, the consequence is that they have a messy room or unbrushed teeth for one day! Choose your battles in the morning, anything that is not critical to get everyone to where they need to be in the morning may need to slide.
Another example of where children can be self-sufficient in age appropriate way is when it comes to breakfast. If you have a shelf in the pantry or in the fridge where the breakfast things live, your children can go there when they are ready and help themselves to whatever they feel like from that shelf. If your older children are able in the mornings, they can make the toast for the little ones and take some pressure of you.
When it comes to breakfast, it is always a good idea to have an “emergency bag” in the car. This can include easy to eat things like bananas, yoghurt drinks or cereal bars, a non-perishable emergency stash for the inevitable days when things don’t go to plan and someone misses breakfast. By knowing it is there, you should be able to relax slightly if you or one of your children hasn’t yet eaten at the time you need to leave!
By picking your battles around what you insist on in the morning, you are giving kids ownership of their morning and in turn teach them the concept of natural consequences. If they don’t put their shoes on, they will go to school without shoes, if they won’t get dressed, try dropping them off to school in their pyjamas – it is unlikely they will resist getting dressed ever again!
A successful morning is almost always dependent on how much planning was done by each person in advance wherever possible. Eg: Was their homework left until the morning? Did you forget to send back the permission slip and now you can’t find the email? Did they/you forget it was soccer/music/library day today and their kit isn’t ready to go?
By having a weekly calendar which is colour coded for each child both you and your child will know what needs to be done each day. If this is checked as part of the evening routine, you will save yourself the stress of the last minute chaos we are all so desperately trying to avoid. Forward planning together with having realistic expectations and picking your battles can hopefully help to take some of the stress out of a hectic morning schedule.
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