Back to School, Back to the Morning Circus

Back to School, Back to the Morning Circus

September is the back-to-school month, and for many families with school-age children that means the return of the dreaded morning circus.  Instead of everyone getting up rested and with smiles, there are shouting matches, tears, frustration, and moms getting late to work.  Sometimes it seems that getting kids out of bed and out the door in an orderly manner must require an act of divine intervention.  In anticipation of this month, I interviewed several friends and past clients who have successfully reigned in the morning circus in their homes.  Here are their tips:

1. Organization

An established, non-negotiable morning routine that everyone in the household adheres to seems to be the common theme amongst the families who enjoy happy mornings. 

The morning routine really begins the night before.  Since deciding what to wear can cause much delay (and tantrums), getting this out of the way the night before is a great idea.  One client tells me that she made a rule that her daughters can pick each night what clothes to wear the next morning, but once the choices are made, no changes are allowed.  All the clothes are laid out on a chair by their beds, so when they wake up, there’s one less thing to fuss about. 

Packing the backpack is another task that should be accomplished the night before.  It is easier to remember to pack everything (homework, school supplies, permissions slips, etc.) when you are not rushing to get out of the door.  A friend tells me that he even puts his children’s ready backpacks in the trunk of his car before going to bed, to be even more ready for the morning. In the morning, super-organized moms and dads often get up and get themselves ready first, then wake their children up.  This gives parents some calm time to prepare themselves for the day ahead, and enough time to help their kids get ready. 

And speaking of waking up, who says that parents have to wake their children up at all?  Unless the kids are very young, they can learn to awaken by an alarm clock.  This teaches children self-responsibility and gives them a sense of autonomy – something that’s a big deal for school-age children.

It’s been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it should not be skipped.  Just like with clothes and backpacks, it can be decided on the night before.  Some families make weekly breakfast menus, some stick to cereal and fruit (and even lay out the bowls and spoons on the table the night before), and some have their kids eat breakfast at school.  Whatever the case may be in your family, this is another decision that can be made ahead of time so that you are not pressed for time and forced to skip this important meal.

Finally, getting enough sleep is very important for kids (and adults, too). Making sure that everyone gets at least eight hours of sleep each night will help ensure that everyone is less grouchy in the morning.

Getting Ready For School

2. Motivation
After agreeing on the morning routine, moms and dads need to provide motivation for their kids to stick to it. There should be rewards for adhering to the plan, and consequences for not.

One of my neighbors suggests using a chart that outlines the bedtime and morning routines.  Upon completing a task, a child gets to place a star next to the item on the chart.  After completing a certain number of tasks on time and without fuss, the child gets a reward. It does not have to be anything that costs money.  An afternoon with dad in the park, or going for a walk with mom are both great rewards. 

And just like good behavior is encouraged with rewards, negative behavior is discouraged with penalties.  For example, not getting up on the first call may result in having to go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next evening, or having to get up 15 minutes the next morning. Having good organization and providing proper motivation are both keys to conquering the morning circus.

Still, the best way to instill good morning habits in children is to be a good example.  “Do as I say and not as I do” really does not work.  Children follow their parent’s example, so if a parent is disorganized in the morning, rushing and stressing out, what can be expected of the child?  All parents I talked to say that the best way to ensure happy and smiley mornings is to be happy, smiley and well organized themselves.