Back to School: Managing the Mornings

by Carol Band

The school bus is coming in five minutes. Your son can't find his gym bag, your daughter needs a permission slip signed and no one remembered to walk the dog. The little things can add up to big stress in the morning. Getting kids up and out of the house isn't easy.

"I had a terrible time getting my 10-year-old son out of bed in the morning," recalls Tricia Hanlon. "Then I got a squirt gun. Now I squirt him and he gets up laughing."

Although unorthodox methods sometimes work, experts recommend that each child have an alarm clock placed in the far corner of the bedroom.

"This gives children control and encourages independence," says Donna Goldberg, an education consultant and co-author of The Organized Student.

Susan McCabe, a mother of two boys, 13 and 9, suggests doing as much as possible the night before. "We check the weather, lay out clothes, make lunches, pack backpacks and talk about what's for breakfast. That way," she says, "there are no surprises or negotiations in the morning."

Sue Sheffler, a mother of three older children, recalls that when her kids were young they would often change into clean sweatpants and T-shirts before bed. "That way they would be already dressed when they woke up in the morning. It was a huge time saver for kids who didn't really care about fashion."

Predictability and routine are key to reducing stress in the morning.

"Kids thrive on routine, and parents are instrumental in making sure that the routine doesn't waiver," says Goldberg, "If you insist that your child get dressed before breakfast, you have to stick with that rule." After 21 days of a new behavior, she adds, it becomes habit.

Many parents find it effective to use charts to encourage certain behaviors.

Anne Murray, a mother of three kids ranging from 5 to 12, says that creating a morning checklist - from getting up to walking to the bus stop - has made a big difference in her 9-year-old daughter Kendra's ability to get to school on time.

"She can see on the chart that after she has breakfast it's time to brush her teeth and feed the hamster," Murray says. "It helps her manage her morning."

Tips for Sunnier Mornings:

  • Do as much as possible the night before. Make lunches, lay out clothes, organize backpacks.

  • Create a morning launch spot for each member of the family. Here's where backpacks, briefcases, lunches and school projects won't be forgotten as you rush out the door.

  • Make it easy for your kids to be self-sufficient. Hang coats on hooks that they can reach; buy shoes with easy fasteners and pants that are easy to pull-on.

  • Keep quick breakfast items on hand: oatmeal bars, individual yogurts, trail mix and bananas.

  • Minimize distractions. Turn off the TV and put away the video games. Focus on getting ready for the day.

  • Organize yourself. Get up 15 minutes earlier, make a to-do list for the day, check the calendar and be sure you have enough cash for lunch money and field trips.

  • Think about setting up a reward system for good morning behavior. "My 5-year-old had a hard time getting up and off to school every morning," says Margit Griffith. "When we started using stickers and the promise of a prize after 10 good mornings, things improved dramatically."

  • Set a backup alarm clock - just in case.

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