Dear Parent Coach,
Since school started a couple of weeks ago, I thought we’d be in some sort of a routine by now — but the mornings are crazy. I have children at three different schools and we barely make it out the door in time. Everyone is in a bad mood once we finally get into the car. I don’t like to start the day this way. Any practical suggestions?
Signed, Going Crazy
Having recently completed a 24-hour babysitting stint with three grandchildren, I have a fresh reminder of what those school mornings can be like. After finding the right clothes, getting beds sort-of made, breakfast and lunches thrown together to meet specific needs, and the last-minute gathering of supplies for the day, everyone tumbles into the car — and as you describe it — not too cheerfully.
I was only doing this for two days, while most parents are accomplishing this feat day after tiring day. My memory is that once a routine is established, things do calm down.
It takes a while for a child to give up a spectacular, sunny summer-fun attitude and force their mind and body into a more disciplined manner of operating. It sounds as if your family is bravely making the attempt to move from one season to the next, but fall’s demands are always overwhelming.
The family team organizer, usually Mom, feels the responsibility of getting everyone where they have to be with every last item they need for the day, and on time at that. With children dragging their heels at the day’s demands, mounting frustrations are usually ill-directed toward a parent. Sounds as if you’re the undeserving recipient.
The older a child is, the more quickly he will adapt to the school routine, having done it before. However, a kindergartner, not used to hurrying or having to be responsible for personal items, will need more help at the beginning as habits are established.
The first month and a half of school takes a great deal of patience from parents, who set the tone for the family. They need to tolerate the frustration and provide steady, calm direction to improve the situation.
Perhaps gathering the family for an organizational meeting would be helpful at this point. First, take time to recall the fun times your family enjoyed on family vacation and savor the memories. Then allow each child to freely express his/her feelings (i.e. complain) about summer’s loss, restrictive schedules and school struggles.
Now move the focus onto what’s coming up that the family can look forward to: cooler weather, football games, fall festivals, Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Get into a forward-moving fall mood. Brainstorm with the family about how schedules can be more streamlined to make morning madness become a well-oiled machine.
This needs to be a cooperative effort, with each child suggesting at least one way he can personally contribute to improving the situation. Children often come up with surprisingly fresher ideas than adults.
A more positive attitude may emerge from children who know more clearly what’s expected from them. Develop a time schedule with each child’s morning duties and post it on his bedroom door. My grandchildren had charts on the refrigerator that kept them moving along.
Play music as everyone is getting ready, rotating who gets to choose the music for the day. Give occasional kudos to those who are moving on schedule.
Looking forward to eating good food always lifts the spirits. Ask family members to list favorite breakfast and lunch items so they can be purchased and available. Consider having an all-time family favorite (strawberry waffles, blueberry pancakes?) for Friday breakfast as a celebration for making it through the week. Yay team.
As children are able, allow them to do more and more for themselves, transferring responsibility from parent to child. A kindergartner can pick out her own clothes, a 3rd-grader can make his own lunch, a 9th-grader can arrange for her own orthodontist appointments.
As children become more capable themselves, they learn that they have more power over their own lives, and look less to parents to fix everything for them, or blame them when things go wrong.
By involving your children in a team effort to reduce morning madness, they are developing valuable time management and organizational skills that will prove useful when they eventually leave for college.
So get the music going, the beds and waffles made, and have a great morning. After everyone has been dropped off, head to Starbucks to meet a friend and unwind. The dishes can wait till later.
1. Go on a family excursion to Target and let each child pick out a new alarm clock. Establish wake-up times for each child and set clocks.
2. Plan on getting up at least 20 minutes before the first child, for thinking time before the day begins.
3. Help younger children set out clothes the night before.
4. Teach your children how to make their beds.
5. Consider carpooling so you aren’t running to three different schools, both morning and afternoon.
6. Put all signed forms, needed money, library books, etc. in back packs the night before, and set by the door.
7. Ask older children to make their own lunches in the evening and place them in the fridge ready to go.
8. Assign one child the task of setting the breakfast table the night before, and rotate daily.
9. Make a date with a friend to walk or go for coffee. Have a great day.