Tips to Make School Mornings Easier For Kids

For parents, school mornings can pack in all the stress of a normal day into just a couple of hours.
Wouldn't it be amazing if all parents could have flextime, so there's more time in the morning for small humans to have a more humane start to their day? But that's not possible for many families. So, here are some ways you can make school mornings easier, leading to happier kids and less-frazzled parents:

Be Strict About Sleep

If you have to wake your kids in the morning, they aren't getting enough sleep. Everyone differs in how much sleep they need, and you know how much is enough. Every hour of sleep less than they need sets them back a year in access to brain function, meaning they act a year younger. So if you're dragging your child out of bed, start bedtime earlier. You almost certainly give your kids a bedtime, but be sure you’re sticking to your own as well. Do yourself a favor by getting to bed on time so you’re less cranky and more able to deal with the hurdles of the morning with ease.

Get a Head Start the Night Before

It’s tempting after a long day of work to put off what you can until the next day. Yet, leaving things for when your brain is still waking up only makes things harder. Make preparations for the next morning, like putting out breakfast bowls and the kids’ clothes, part of your nightly routine. Once dinner, cleaning and homework help are out of the way, you can relax knowing you’ve made the next day as easy as possible.

Build-in Extra Time

Get up earlier than your kids so you're dressed and emotionally centered before you interact with them. A 10 minutes to yourself with coffee and the morning paper can help you relax. With a peaceful mindset, you can then get started on waking up the kids and preparing for the day. A calmer attitude sets you up for the rest of the day.
You can also plan on routinely getting to work fifteen minutes earlier than you're due. Half the time, you won't make it but you also won't lose your temper at your kids because you won't actually be late. The other half of the time, you'll have a more relaxed start to your work day so you'll be more effective at work. 

Incentivize Getting Ready Early

Giving yourself and your kids enough time to get ready is key to avoiding rushing around and getting stressed. It can be difficult for kids to see the benefit of getting to school on time, as they’re usually reluctant to go in the first place. If you offer a small treat for finishing early, like 15 minutes of cartoons before leaving, children often get ready on time by themselves. Even better, make treat time something you share with them, either by watching their shows as well or doing some drawing or playing together.

Use Connection Routines to Make Transitions Easier

Kids find transitions hard and the morning is full of transitions. So if getting her out of bed is a challenge, end your morning snuggle by holding hands as you go downstairs together, and make that a meaningful connection time for your child, during which you both come up with something you're grateful for, or something you're looking forward to today. (Naturally, yours will relate to your child.)

Help Kids to Move through the Routine

If your goal is to give your child a good start to his day, then you need to see your job as helping him move through the morning routine happily, not just barking orders. That might mean you bring his clothes downstairs with you and he gets dressed next to you while you're feeding the baby so you can acknowledge him: "I notice you picked your blue shirt again. You like that shirt....You're working so hard on figuring out which shoe goes on which foot...Today you're humming while you get dressed." Remember, getting dressed is your priority, not his. Your presence is what motivates him. He's borrowing your "executive function" to keep himself on track.

Keep the Routine as Simple as Possible

So, for instance, you may want to rethink breakfast. I know, you want to serve your child a hot breakfast at the table. Me too. But I have one kid who just wasn't ready to eat as soon as she got up, so there were times when she regularly ate a sandwich in the car. No less healthy, more peaceful -- a better start to the day.
Worried about brushing teeth? I handed her a toothbrush and sippy cup of water after her sandwich. No toothpaste in the mornings for a few months. If you consider that too much of a compromise, you'll need to find a solution that works for you, but my point is that there are no rules. Why can't they sleep in the T-shirt and leggings they'll wear to school? Why can't you just put her hair in a ponytail instead of brushing it, or braid it after her bath, let her sleep with it in the braid and wear it to school without brushing?

Give Choices

No one likes to be pushed around. Does he want to brush his teeth standing on the stool at the kitchen sink while you're getting the baby out of the high chair, or upstairs in the bathroom? Does she want to put her shoes on first, or her jacket on first? Cede control whenever you can. You may think he should use the bathroom as soon as he gets out of bed, but he wants to be in charge of his own body. As long as he's not wetting his pants, it's better to let him make that decision for himself.

Play it out

Sometime on the weekend, grab a mom and baby stuffed animal. Have them act out the morning routine. Have the little one resist, whine, collapse. Have the mom "lose it" (but don't scare your child by overdoing it. Have the mom be a funny, incompetent bumbler.) Your child will be fascinated. Then, hand your kid the "mom" and play out the scenario again, with you being the kid. Make it funny so you can both giggle and let off tension. Make sure to include scenarios in which the kid goes to school in his pjs, or the mom goes to work in her pjs, or the kid has to yell at the mom to hurry up and get ready, or the mom says "Who cares about that meeting? Let's tell the boss it's more important to find your toy car!" Give him in fantasy what he can't have in reality. You may learn something about how to make things work better. Almost certainly, you'll see more understanding and cooperation from your kid on Monday. At the very least, the laughter will defuse the tension.

Ruthlessly prioritize

If both parents are working full time while children are small, there is simply no way to do anything "extra" during the week. This is the only way you can go to bed early enough to stay in a good mood in the morning. And your child depends on your good mood to regulate her own moods. Don't worry, these years don't last forever. You're laying a wonderful foundation for her to take more and more charge of her own morning routine.

Give Everything a “Home”

If you’re always scrambling to find the car keys, school bags or shoes, make sure you set places for all these things so you know where they’ll be. Tell your kids it’s important to put everything back in its proper place, and supervise until they make it a habit. You’ll find you spend less time looking for everything and more time enjoying your mornings together and being on time.
With everyone sleepy and thinking of the tasks for the day ahead, mornings with kids can often be the most stressful part of the day. By implementing some structure, planning and fun time into the routine, school mornings can become a lot less stressful and set you and your kids up for a great day ahead.
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