Morning routines set the tone for the day

MorningAh, mornings. Gently waking with the sun. Reading the paper and sipping coffee. Wait, that was before I had kids! Morning routines are often stressful for parents and kids - the combination of time pressure and waking up can create a "perfect storm" of conflict. How do your kids feel on days when voices are raised to encourage them to move faster before being rushed to the bus? How do you feel as a parent? I can think of a few times when, as the bus pulled away, I realized that I didn't give the kids a hug and kiss before they left. Those are not my happiest, or proudest, moments. On the other hand, on days when everything gets done on time, and cheeks are kissed and bodies hugged, my day starts off on the right foot. And the kids' day does too.

What can parents do to help mornings progress more smoothly? I think planning and organizing are key. Consider your typical morning. Where are problems likely to arise? For some, it's getting the kids out of bed. For others, it's making sure the clothes match. For my kids, if a problem comes up, it's usually because someone's slow to get dressed. Step 1 to reducing stress during morning routines is to make sure everyone's getting enough sleep. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic believe that school-aged children require about 10 hours of sleep, teens need about about 9, and most adults can get by with 7 to 8 hours. Step 2 is to set a waking time that allows everyone to be ready when it's time to go, with a few extra minutes to account for obstacles that sometimes come up. As much as possible, these strategies work best if bedtimes and waking times are consistent from day to day.

Once sleep routines are settled, it's time to look into the parts of the routines that are triggers for problems. Step 3 is to brainstorm for possible solutions. Parents and kids might sit down together to think about how to address these issues. One of the things my wife and I had to do was allow the kids some latitude in the clothes they chose to wear. As long as they were clean, we took a deep breath and let them go out the door... My younger son recently decided that matching socks were not cool. We don't argue with him when he leaves the house with 1 red sock and 1 blue one. I know of some families who used coloured hangers to indicate pants and shirts that could go together.

Step 4 might be to pick your battles. We all have things that push our buttons - and our kids become extremely skilled at finding those things. It's important to ask, "Why does that bother me?" and, "Is it worth enduring a tantrum over this?"

Sometimes the solution is to move part of the morning routine to the night before. If your mornings are rushed because it takes too long to prepare lunches, is it possible to do some of that before bedtime? Clothes could also be chosen in the evening. For some kids, it might be hard to remember the morning chores or routines when they're still waking up. In these cases, checklists or chore cards might be helpful. My kids liked using a sticker chart to remind them of the steps required to get ready. Even though they know their routines very well now, they still sometimes ask if we can use the charts again! And that brings us to Step 5: Look for ways your kids can help, or for things that they can do independently. Let them take on some responsibilities in the mornings, and you might be surprised by what a difference it can make.

What strategies have helped you get through the morning? Leave us a comment!

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