It’s back to school time, with the mornings requiring more routine and less mucking around than the holidays; but how do we go about it without ruining the morning for everyone? Try to implement some of these gentle yet effective suggestions for a more harmonious and ordered start to everyone’s day.
Beepbeepbeep goes the alarm clock. You slept too little, and your grumpiness levels soar as you remember one child is due at kindy, another at school, and the baby needs also to be fed and changed, all before 8.30am. It’s time to take a big breath and … smile. Studies have shown that smiling, even forced smiling, reduces stress and promotes the sense of well-being. But that’s only part of the picture. The old adage “life is a journey, not a destination”, could also be applied to raising children. Whether it’s helping them with homework, teaching them to crawl or getting them to school on time, it’ll all happen more smoothly if we concentrate on the process and not stress about the outcome.
So how do we change mornings from chaos-and-tension to game-and-order?
- Create a routine that suits your family. Teaching your child to approach mornings in an organised manner will give them a lifelong skill in responsibility, independence and reducing stress.
- Test the routine on a holiday morning before the children go back to school for real.
- List all the things that need to be achieved: make the bed, get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, apply sunscreen. Older children can help create the list and tick off items every morning. If the list has pictures next to the words, younger children can use it, too. Such lists are particularly useful to children who process information visually.
- Pack the bags, lay out the outfits and make lunches the night before. Collect togs, trip money and signed permission slips.
- Build in extra time: get yourself ready before you wake up the children and aim to get to school 10 minutes before you need to be there.
- Nobody wants to do this, but if your family finds mornings a challenge, it may be a sign you need to go to bed earlier the previous night.
- A morning routine that’s fun is easier to manage. Play happy music, invent dressing games, get creative with brushing teeth.
- Children find transitions hard: from the warm bed to the bathroom, from PJs into clothes, from play mode into hurry-up mode. Guide your family firmly and lovingly through the morning routine. Don’t rush them. Offer encouragement and emotional support rather than shout out orders. Remind them what to do next, even if it’s obvious. If they seem to need it, praise each completed task.
- If your mornings are habitually too short, compromise. Let the toddler sleep in the t-shirt he’ll be wearing to kindy, let your daughter braid her hair before going to bed, practise the times table in the car on the way to school.
- If your children need assistance, help them. School mornings are not for learning to ties shoelaces. Leave that for the weekend.
- Serve a good, healthy breakfast to ensure a balanced start. Rushed mornings don’t lend themselves to lengthy debates about food options, so you might like to set up a pre-arranged menu to choose from: scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast, baked beans on seed loaf, oat porridge with fruit.
- Remind the little ones to drink water and go to the toilet before they leave the house.
- Have a ‘reward’ activity your children can engage in if they get ready early.
- Focus on the positive: the children are healthy, you have enough food to feed them, life is good. Aim to have a pleasant morning with the children, strive to connect emotionally, offer cuddles.
- When the going gets tough and the morning time shrinks, don’t panic. Ask yourself what’s more important in the long run: a happy family or being punctual. Not saying you should be fine with dropping off the kids at school late on a regular basis, just that if it happens once, it’s not the end of the world. Review what went wrong with your morning routine and how to fix it so that it doesn’t happen again.
Yvonne Eve Walus is an education specialist, a senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two childre