Are your mornings a nightmare? A frantic rush—with parents and kids cranky and running late? No more: Try these tips for smoothing out your mornings from child-rearing experts, professional organizers, and savvy moms on the frontlines of the morning madness.
For starters, consider that draggy mornings may mean some of you (or all of you!) aren't getting enough sleep, says Anita Chandra-Puri, M.D., a pediatrician in Chicago and the mother of four sons. Sleep needs vary from child to child (and parent to parent). In fact, a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of children under 18 complained of being tired during the day, while 15 percent of children said they actually fell asleep at school. How much sleep does your family need? Check out the National Sleep Foundation.
Once you know your family's sleep needs, back up bedtime, bathtime, storytime, dinnertime—whatever needs to happen earlier so that you all can get to bed earlier and wake up more rested.
Start the Night Before
Re-filling diaper bags, packing toddler snacks, signing permission slips—these are the things that can take up precious morning minutes. That's why lots of parents suggest getting ready for the morning the night before.
"We're not morning people, so we do everything the night before," says Karen McBride, a fourth-grade teacher and mother of Mallorie, 12, and Matthew, 9, in Overland Park, Kansas: "Homework is finished, backpacks are ready and by the door, the next day's outfits are chosen, and lunches are made." McBride even sets out cereal bowls and vitamins on the table in preparation for the morning.
Make It Easier to Be Organized
If children—even little ones—know where things go when the walk in the house, they'll have an easier time packing up in the mornings, says Noelle Micek, owner of An Organized Nest (anorganizednest.com).If you walk the child through the process a few days in a row—"Backpacks go here, lunch bags go here, important school papers live here"—it may even become a habit, says Jim Fay, co-author ofParenting With Love and Logic and co-founder of the Love and Logic Institute. "Parents think kids are born already trained, but they're not," Fay says.
"Don't be surprised if the kindergartener comes up with the best idea," she says. And watch how invested they become in making mornings run smoothly when they're involved in the solutions, says Paul Horowitz, M.D., founding partner of Discovery Pediatrics in Valencia, California. "It's empowering for a child to take responsibility," Dr. Horowitz says. And it can have a powerful impact: At the O'Connor household, children make their beds and bring their dirty clothes downstairs every day before breakfast. "We started this when they were little and it just became a good habit," O'Connor says. Rituals work!
Post a Hard-to-Miss Calendar
A centrally located calendar is also useful so "everyone's on the same page," organizer Micek says. If you teach everyone to check the calendar each evening, there won't be any stress-inducing emergencies in the morning ("The dozen brownies, art supplies, fill in the blank were for today?!"). Colors and stickers can help little ones understand the week's plans; older kids and adults may want to synchronize the calendar with their cell phones.
Parents Get Ready First
That moment of peace before the rest of the house wakes? Parents often need it. In fact, getting up early to enjoy those calm minutes can help you set the tone for the morning, your children, and the rest of the day, Dr. Chandra-Puri says. "Get yourself ready before you wake the children, and you'll be better able to concentrate on them," she says.
Everyone Gets an Alarm Clock
Children as young as 4 or 5 years old can use an alarm clock, according to Dr. Horowitz. Help give them ownership of their mornings by letting them shop for an age-appropriate clock (digital clocks may be easier for the youngest family members). Show them how to use it and, with younger children, make a point of talking about time and rituals as you set it each night.
Make a Battle Plan
If you've made a plan and your mornings still have a habit of going haywire, do a trigger list. What, exactly, sends your mornings into a tailspin? Identify and deal with those for saner mornings, Pankiewicz says. If your toddler insists on wearing the same shirt every day and you don't want him wearing it dirty, for example, buy three of them so you'll always have one handy. If your daughter insists on changing clothes a few too many times in the a.m., have her do the fashion show the night before. Favorite hair accessories, shin guards, or must-have stuffed animals for the car? Have a designated spot where they live so you always know where to find them—stat.
Make Mornings Family Time
At the Horowitz house, everyone eats breakfast together as a family because dinners don't often work out with busy schedules. "Everything has to be done in time for breakfast, so it becomes a staging ground for getting out of the house," the father of three says.
And though it's an old saw that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it is critically important. "The brain needs some nourishment and energy, especially before school," Dr. Horowitz says. The right fuel—and your calm routine—will send your family off happy and healthy.