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!
First, 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!