One of the biggest transitions into motherhood for me was actually having to be awake before 10 AM… no, really. Some days there isn’t even time to get that first cup of coffee, which is a catch 22 because I can’t accomplish a thing without it. Now, I have an elementary school student, a preschooler and a toddler and things can get, well, hectic. Breezy Mama turned to parent educator Kathy Seckington for some invaluable advice for surviving morning madness.
A. Make a Plan and Stick to it:
List all the things in your morning routine. Now, look for things that can be done the night before which will cut time and relieve some stress ( backpacks packed up and by the door, clothes laid out, lunches made and bath/shower before going to bed).
Also, look at what things are distracting in the morning and may need to be eliminated (T.V. & computer tend to be the biggest distractions).
Discuss this plan as a family. If it is your idea or plan others will be less likely to hold to it, but if it is a collective decision, you will get more cooperation. Think about it, if your boss tells you to do something you are doing it because you were told to and your ideas were not important. How do you feel about what you are doing? But, if you are part of the decision making process, your ownership — and therefore follow through to make it successful — will be much greater. It’s the same with children. Make them part of the decision making process. We do this during family meetings. Decide who will do what and make that your “game plan.”
Here are some organization tips:
1. Have a “drop box” – I had the kids decorate theirs. Obviously you can use anything but I like the clear plastic ones at Office Depot so you can see inside. Everyone — including parents — put all the things in your drop box the night before that you want to make sure gets to school with you the next morning. When you leave the next morning the drop box should be empty. Eventually the older kids will transition into putting their stuff right into their backpack the night before and the backpack goes into the box. However you decide to create it, the key is to have it in a location that is near the exit you use in the morning. Make the “drop box” check part of your nightly routine.
2. Lay out clothing, hats, hair accessories and shoes the night before.
3. Make lunches the night before (see “focus on the goal”). Label and put in the fridge so they are easy to grab and pack in the lunchbox the next morning. My kids like to put their name on their sandwich baggies!
4. For kids ages 2-8, a chart of “morning jobs” is helpful to keep them on task. I took pictures of my children doing their jobs, like dressing, brushing teeth, combing hair, eating breakfast (check out these cartoon pictures here), and arranged them on an old cookie sheet. They used a magnet to move from picture to picture until they had accomplished all the tasks. Then, the magnet went into the “ready zone” we created at the bottom of the cookie sheet. Here is the key: there are no stickers or rewards here, I’m teaching them to focus on their responsibilities, not on a “reward” (click here for a Responsibility Chart). If you have more than one child, their goal is to have EVERYONE in the ready zone, so you are promoting teamwork, not competing to see who can get there first. If a child needs to be refocused (and what 2-4 year old doesn’t), you can simply say, “where is your magnet?” instead of nagging or other responses that result in adding stress and negative interactions to our morning. All children under 5 will need refocusing, it’s developmentally where they are in the growth process. We tend to forget that and expect them to have the same awareness of time that we have. Sending your child off to school in a peaceful and loving way sets the tone for their day just as nagging, yelling and threatening do. How would you rather send them off?
B. Focus on the Goal:
For most of us the goal is simply “get out of the house on time today”, but we need to think more long term than that. Ask yourself, what is my goal? Most of us would say it is to raise responsible, capable children.
How do we get there? Allow time for training and practice. First, look at what is developmentally appropriate for our children to be doing on their own. (for example, ages 6 & up should be making their own lunches. Ages 4-6 are doing so with your help and guidance.) Information on developmentally appropriate tasks can be found in Jane Nelsen’s, Positive Discipline books (click here for the age based options), there is one for every stage of childhood from preschoolers to teenagers. Also, a favorite of mine is Yardsticks (click here to purchase from Amazon for $15.12 vs. $20.00) by Chip Wood.
Here’s the trap we fall into: it’s faster and easier to do it ourselves, so we do more for them than we need to. That does not help us reach the goal. If anything it puts it off and we get frustrated saying, “Why can’t you just do this yourself?” Understand that a little time taken in the training process will ultimately get us to our goal faster than if we don’t take that time initially.
Children learn responsibility by being responsible for age appropriate tasks. If we wait until we think a child can master a skill before allowing him to try it, we are robbing him of precious learning opportunities! I can watch an expert hit tennis balls forever, but unless I’m given the opportunity to experience the results of my mistakes and the joy of my successes with that ball and racket, it’s unlikely I’ll develop my skill.
Tips for moving toward your goal:
1. Get up 15 minutes earlier so that you have time to take care of your needs and still have time to help guide your child. Most of our stress in the morning is due to the fact that we are rushed to get ourselves ready, so we turn to snap at our children. Remember this analogy: During airplane flights, the flight attendant always tell us to put on our own oxygen mask first, then assist others. As a parent, if you are not taking care of yourself first, you are less equipped to take care of others, so get your oxygen mask in place! You’d be surprised how much more peaceful you will feel and you will be better able to exercise a little patience with those around you when you have taken the time you need to get ready first.
2. Make sure the kitchen is stocked and items are accessible for kids to do more for themselves. Remember that if our goal is to raise responsible, capable children, then we need to allow them to access what they need to do tasks independently. When my children started preschool, they started pouring their own cereal and milk. I made it accessible by putting milk in a small Tupperware pitcher in the refrigerator. This made it easier for them to manage and spills less likely or at least less messy!
3. Keep items in reach. Plastic dishes, cups and bowls can be placed in lower cabinets so that children can reach what they need easily. Breakfast items such as yogurt, cereal, muffins and hard boiled eggs (my son’s favorite), can all be placed on low, easy to access shelves in the cabinets or refrigerator. I use the Tupperware cereal containers instead of keeping cereal in boxes so that I don’t have to worry about it becoming stale as quickly from not closing the bag properly! Young children love to do things for themselves and breakfast should be an easy thing for them to independently manage. Just remember that you will need to take the time for training, so do it with them the first few times.
4. I’ve heard parents complain that their children don’t make healthy choices if they are allowed to make their own meal. This can be avoided by deciding together ahead of time what choices are available for breakfast (we keep a sign that my daughter made on the computer of “healthy breakfast choices” on the fridge so that the choices are always clear and it takes me out of the role of telling them what they can have or not have, they just choose from the list!) Also, by making sure you only buy healthy foods, you don’t have to worry that there will be inappropriate items available!
5. Be proactive! Keep items stocked so that figuring out what to have for breakfast doesn’t derail your morning plan! Teach your children how to put something on a list when they use the last item. I keep a magnetic list (click here) on the refrigerator and if someone took the second to the last yogurt, or we are low on milk or juice, they add it to the list. It’s very empowering to give these important responsibilities to children and it helps us to be more proactive!
C. Timing is everything!
The biggest factor in our morning routine is TIME! Take a look at what time your kids go to bed. Do they have trouble getting up in the morning? Sometimes we have to make adjustments to bedtimes to allow for an appropriate amount of sleep. Pediatricians say that children between 3-9 years old need about 10-11 hours of sleep every night. Ages 9-12 can get by with a little less, then interestingly, it increases again as children go through adolescence. So, look at your child’s sleep patterns. We all feel better and do better when we have enough sleep!
1. Know your child – are they a morning person, easy to wake and perky in the morning? Or are they a night owl, always asking for 5 more minutes of reading and difficult to wake and grumpy in the morning? We all have different temperaments and we cannot change them! However, you can adjust for them! Be sure you are giving ample time in the morning for your hard to wake child! (My daughter is one of these. She has an alarm clock that has two alarms, the first is a CD which gently wakes her, then after about 5 minutes or so, a second alarm goes off which is a buzzer and she has to get out of bed to reach the off switch. Knowing that giving her a little more time to adjust to getting up, helps set her up for a more successful morning!)
2. Give the responsibility of getting up on time to your 9-19 year old! Get them an alarm clock and teach them how to set it! Make the alarm clock part of your nightly routine. My kids prefer to wake up to music, so we got them one that plays a favorite CD for the alarm (click here for some options). For my daughter – who is slow to wake up, her alarm clock is not reachable from her bed. She has to physically get out of bed to turn it off which helps her to get going!
3. Avoiding meals/snacks after 7pm will help your child’s body get to sleep more easily. In fact, an early dinner is healthier for all of us!
4. Understand that children under 4 developmentally, do not have a sense of time. They live in the moment and are very self absorbed. Avoid the use of traditional time goals like, “We have to leave in 5 minutes” and use things they can more easily measure like, “We will need to leave when this song is over.” Using a favorite song is very effective because they know from listening to it over and over exactly when it will end. It’s something they can measure that makes sense to them. Anytime you can use something concrete like that, it will help them understand. Abstract things like time, are just not something they have mastered yet and if we expect that from them we are setting them and us up for undue frustration!
We are always looking for a quick fix to whatever is not working well in our lives, whether it’s finances, jobs, relationships or parenting. What we need is to have the courage to slow down and take time for each other! I like this quote from Mother Theresa:
“Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments, and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents, parents have very little time for their children and in the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”
Kathy Seckington is a mother of 2 children ages 10 and 13, and a public school teacher in the Poway Unified School District. She is a Certified Parent Educator through the Positive Discipline Association and Empowering People, Inc. and teaches workshops throughout the San Diego area.
For more information and parenting tips, go to www.positivediscipline.com.
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Great tips, Kathy! I have a suggestion that I got from a friend(another Breezymama!) that works beautifully to make sure I keep organized with school and afterschool activities every day: I bought a hanging sweater divider and each cubby is labeled Monday through Friday. Everything I need, including homework due that day, papers that need to be returned, equipment for afterschool activities, etc, I put in that day’s divider. That way I never forget my daughter’s Girl Scout uniform or my son’s item to share on his share day because I check the cubby the night before to make sure everything I need for the next day is ready.
Now just one more problem: How do I get my son’s body regulated to STOP having to go #2 RIGHT when we are headed out the door???