Life is so busy. I think that one of the hardest daily challenges as a parent is the ability to get your children out the door and to school every day. When my children were younger, it was even harder. Despite my very best efforts and organization with multiple children, sometimes going to different locations, it felt like I was herding cats.
We would get into the car, and I would run back and forth grabbing a forgotten lunch box, diapers, or a library book. Most often what was sacrificed was what I needed for myself; my coffee, lunch, computer charger, etc.
Here are a few ideas that helped us survive and then even embrace those chaotic mornings. We found that following a strong routine and allowing for everyone to have time to transition (kids’ behavior tends to be worse when they are rushed) made all the difference.
- Have your children set out their clothes the night before. For kids who have a hard time choosing clothes, choose outfits for the entire week on Sunday night. There are some great closet organizers that have 5 shelves. Label the days (this also helps them learn to sequence the days of the week). Choose outfits, underwear, and socks and place them on the shelves. When your children are in elementary school, this will help to remember particular items like wearing sneakers and gym clothes on PE days. For a while, we used cubby shelves that were large enough for us to place in musical instruments or sports uniforms on the days they were needed.
- Create a landing spot for your children when they come home so that after backpacks, shoes, and diaper bags are hung up, items can be replaced and cleaned out, then everything is in the launch site for the next morning.
- Help your child wake up happy. Give them a warning (or even an alarm clock when they are older), play their favorite music, turn on the lights, and allow them time to transition from sleeping to waking. I used to think my kids needed to sleep as long as possible before I would hurry them up and out the door. I found allowing for that 15-20 minutes of wake-up time made a huge difference in the morning with fewer tears and tantrums.
- Breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day. For those children who take medication, they may not feel hungry for snacks and lunch until later, so this is the time to try and get healthy food in their bellies. If at all possible, try to couple your child’s breakfast with some protein as it prevents a blood sugar crash that can happen later. We did many years of smoothies because our kids could have some cereal at home and then sip the smoothies as we drove to their childcare centers and schools. Just remember to rinse those cups out!
- Develop checklists for your children. You can even create a picture checklist for young children who don’t read yet. Instead of being the human tape recorder, refer to the checklist to remind them to get dressed, put on their shoes, eat their breakfast, brush their teeth, and comb their hair. After they master a simple checklist and they are able to manage their time, add in possible chores like feeding the family pet, making their bed, putting breakfast dishes in the sink, turning out the lights, etc. Celebrate your kids when they follow it without prompting. This is a wonderful life skill for them to have!
- If you have a long drive with your kids, use the time to talk with them. Kids’ brains are fresh for learning and listening in the morning (and they are trapped in the car with you). Go through their schedule of the day. Talk about what they are excited to learn or do that day and problem-solve with them the challenges that they may be worried about. Try your best to set a positive intention for their day. For example, they will be a good listener, they will spread sunshine, or they will be a friend to someone.
- Understand that although mornings may be chock full of hurdles and challenges, these days do not last forever. Quality time in the morning doesn’t have to be elaborate or perfect, but remember that this is time to be with your kids and to set them on the path for a good day. When you say bye-bye, look them in the eyes and let them know you love them.
Wishing you sunshine on the gloomiest of mornings!
Meg Bamford is Head of the Radcliffe Creek School in Chestertown.