27 Oct

Making Mornings More Manageable

Most parents have experienced the “morning from hell” more often than they care to admit. I don’t even have to describe it — I’m that certain you know what I’m talking about.

When I say good-bye to my kids after that kind of morning, I’m left with that terrible, icky, dark cloud lurking over my head for the next several hours (at least) while I curse my kids for being so difficult and berate myself for losing it yet again. Sigh . . . Can you relate?

On the other hand, have you noticed how awesome it feels when the morning goes smoothly and you leave your kids feeling connected and peaceful? Ahhhhh! So much better.

My kids are now 7, 11, and 14, and we have to be out the door by 7:30. So I’ve been collecting wisdom on getting your kids out the door without major trauma for years. Here’s what I’ve learned . . . that actually works!

kids in line for busFirst, from Dr. Laura Markham: Change your goal for the mornings from “Get everyone ready on-time” to “Start the day with love and connection.” I happen to be pretty driven by the clock and I hate being late. (My problem.) So I’ve modified her advice just a little bit, and I say, go for both! Get everyone ready on-time and start the day with love and connection.

The implications of shifting to this dual goal are profound. You might start the morning with cuddles, songs, or reading a joke of the day. You might spend an extra minute just talking about what’s ahead or about a vivid dream your child had the night before.

When you shift your focus from “rush, rush, rush!” to “love, love, (rush,) love,” the whole morning mood changes. As Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline often says, “Kids do better when they feel better.” I’ve found that they get ready faster when they feel better, too!

Second, here are five practical tips to enable this dual goal:

1. Build in some cushion time. When adults plan mornings, we generally allocate just enough time to get ready physically, and without hiccups. This strategy is simply unrealistic. Children need some time to get ready emotionally, too, as well as time to make mistakes (“Oops! I forgot my gym clothes!” or “I spilled all over the table!”) Often it’s me who’s made the mistake: “Shoot! I can’t find my car keys,” and now I’m yelling at my kids to hurry up because I’m making us late. “More cushion means less pushin’.” I made that up. You can quote me.

2. Get yourself ready first. It would be so cool if we could just tell our kids what to do, and then forget about them while they do it. And yet, I’ve found that this expectation is also unrealistic, even though I try very hard to practice Positive Discipline methods, and have been practicing for years.

For me, mornings go way more smoothly when I get myself ready first: shower, get dressed, and do whatever I need to for myself first, and then put my focus on creating a peaceful and efficient morning with my kids. I’m tempted to check my email and get some work done while my kids get ready, but I’ve learned that creating peaceful, smooth mornings takes my full, focused attention.

3. Create a morning routine chart together with your kids. Routines create predictability and safety for kids of all ages (even adults!) by both clarifying what’s expected, as well as giving advance notice for what’s coming next. Visual reminders (a chart, a picture, a list) can also provide a literal picture of success, and help transfer responsibility from parent to child.

For example, if I find my child dawdling in the morning, rather than bark commands from across the room, I can simply point to the chart or ask, “what’s next on your routine chart?” and let them take it from there. Now I’m not the boss, the routine is! And if your child has helped to create the routine, well then they are the boss, too, and that’s self-discipline.

4. Follow the “Night Before” rule. This means getting everything ready the night before including: packing up homework into the backpacks and placing them by the door, packing lunch into lunchbox in fridge, laying out clothes (which children choose themselves), deciding what breakfast will be (OK, I’m not as good at that one, but I’m aspiring to be,) and identifying and gathering any miscellaneous items that need to brought to school the next day.

5. Start every morning with connection. Rather than, “Son, you’ve slept in! Get up now! You’re going to be late,” start with a warm cuddle as your child wakes up, or a big hug or genuine conversation when you greet your child. When you make it a priority to have your very first interaction with your child be warm and connecting, it can change the morning’s direction profoundly. (An alarm clock helps, too!)

I know you have your own tips for making mornings more manageable. Please share what you’ve learned in the comment section below!

07 Aug

Going back-to-school in chunks

About a week ago, I found myself feeling unsettled and anxious about the coming of a new school year.  My son will start high school this month which presents all sorts of new emotional and logistical issues, I lost my carpool partner for my two younger daughters, and I had a lot of questions about what the extracurricular schedule would look like.  Still do.

On top of all that, my three kids have each grown a foot since last year, so they’ll need new clothes, shoes, and of course school supplies.  My water heater is broken, my work load is heavy, I have a blog to write . . . it was all feeling a bit overwhelming.

Until I remembered an old friend’s piece of advice:  “Chunk it up!”  My kids know this saying very well since we repeat it to them whenever they face a daunting task.  High school application needs to get done?  “Chunk it up.”  Need to clean your incredibly cluttered and messy room?  “Chunk it up.”  Got an enormous amount of homework tonight?  “Chunk it up.”

I began to chunk up my back-to-school tasks and immediately started feeling better.  So I’m sharing my chunks with you.  (If you’re ready for school already, skip this!  Instead, read here for my top 3 tips for a smooth transition back to school.)

Chunk 1:  Make a list of everything I need to get done before school starts.   Just having it all down on paper helps because I’m no longer sucking up energy by trying to hold it in my brain.

Chunk 2:  Cluster like topics/activities together.  My clusters are pictured here (transportation, cleaning, shopping, extracurriculars.)Back To School List

Chunk 3:  Start asking questions and doing research for carpools and extracurriculars.  This is mostly emails and phone calls.  My husband is helping.  Little by little, it’s all coming together.

Chunk 4:  Put a date in the calendar to go clothes and school supply shopping.  I hate shopping so I will ask my mother-in-law and babysitter (who both love to shop) to help me.

Chunk 5:  Set a date with each child to clean out their closet and dresser and ID clothing needs.  This could be a major project.  So I’m going to have my kids take a first cut on their own by pulling out everything that doesn’t fit or they don’t like to wear and putting it in a big pile.   Then I’ll take a second look.  We’ll then look through what remains for needed items and make a shopping list.  And then go out for ice cream ( :

Wow!  I feel a lot better now.  I know what needs to be done and I have a plan for getting through it.  Thank you, old friend Duke Pascucci, for “Chunk it up!”

Please tell me:  was this helpful for you?  Is there some chunking of your own you’d like to do?  Share your comments here.

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07 Aug

3 Tips for a Smooth Transition Back to School

As summer comes to a close, it’s time for another huge transition in our children’s lives:  a new school year.

Some kids handle this transition with ease.  Others don’t!  And most all kids need some help with transitions:  from bed to school, from school to home, from play to work, from awake to sleep, etc.

The transition from summer to school is a big one because with it often come new teachers, new classrooms, new routines, new extracurricular activities, new shoes, new this, new that – so much newness!

For our kids, there’s excitement, for sure, and also uncertainty:  who will eat lunch with me?  will my teacher understand me?  will my caregiver know where to find me after school?  will the homework be hard?

When we feel uncertain and unsafe, the brain goes into “threat” mode; and tantrums, power struggles, and melt-downs are all much easier to trigger in this state.

So how can we help our kids feel a sense of safety and certainty during this major transition?  Here are some tips:

Morning-Chart-BetteFetter.com1. Re-establish (or establish!) morning, bedtime, and homework routines.   Routines create predictability and safety for kids of all ages (even adults!) by both clarifying what’s expected, as well as giving advance notice for what’s coming next.  Visual reminders (a chart, a picture, a list) can provide a literal picture of success, and help transfer responsibility from parent to child.

For example, if I find my child dawdling in the morning, rather than bark commands from across the room, I can simply point to the chart or ask, “what’s next on your routine chart?” and let them take it from there.  Now I’m not the boss, the routine is!  And if your child has helped create the routine, well then they are the boss, too, and that’s self-discipline.  For more on routines, and how to create them with your kids, click here.

2. Practice the routine!  Who would wait until “showtime” to practice the script?  Think of the first day of school as “showtime,” and the routine as the “script.”  Have you practiced getting up and going through the morning routine?  Practice definitely makes better!

3. Build in time for genuine connection.  Your child’s greatest source of safety is her relationship with you. Our kids get a huge sense of belonging and significance when we take time to connect with them, and those good feelings will help them manage the transition with more ease.Mother-and-daughter-laughing

There are so many ways to connect with our kids:  listening with empathy, hugs, 1:1 time, laughing and playing together, a love note in the lunch box and more.  How will you build connection during this transition time?  Enjoy it!