How to Rush-Proof Your Family’s Morning Routine

What are mornings like at your house? If you’re like most moms, it’s probably the busiest part of your day. After all, you’ve got to get yourself and your kids out of bed, dressed, fed and out the door with all the necessary stuff in time for school, work and other activities. And this time of year, if your schedule is shifting weekly due to different summer camps or activities, it can make the morning routine even more of a challenge.

The beginning of the day tends to be chaotic and stressful for a bunch of reasons, says Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in private practice in Rockville and Silver Spring, Md., and a mother of three. “Chances are you’ve got at least one or two people in the family, if not everyone, getting ready. There’s a lot that needs to get done in a relatively short period of time, and you’re on a deadline,” she says. “Plus, young children especially don’t do well when they’re being rushed.”

Organizing expert Stacey Crew, a mother of two, says that “how the morning goes really sets the tone for the whole day, so you really want to make things calm and run like clockwork.”

With some key planning and organizational strategies, it is possible to turn the morning mayhem into a peaceful and manageable routine. Here’s how Alvord, Crew and other busy moms make it happen:

1. Plan the week during the weekend

Crew recommends using Saturday and Sunday to get ready for the coming week. Plan and shop for meals, get the laundry done and decide what the kids will wear to school every day (if they’re not old enough to pick out their own outfits).

“Once Monday morning rolls around, you’ve got enough on your plate without having to worry about what you’re making for dinner or whether your kids have clean clothes for school,” says Crew.

2. Prep the night before

The more you can do before going to bed the night before, the better. Make and pack lunches, lay out clothes for you and the kids, set out the breakfast dishes, and make sure bags are packed and waiting beside the door. If getting dressed in the morning is always a battle between you and your (non-morning-person) child, you could even try having her wear her comfy school clothes to bed. “It’s no biggie for my 6-year-old, because she usually wears leggings and a jersey to school, and they’re like PJ’s anyway,” says Bay Brown, a mother of three in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Also, make sure that you and your kids turn in on time so you get enough sleep, suggests Alvord. “It’s easier and less stressful to get everything done in the morning when you’re well-rested,” she says.

3. Get yourself ready first

Plan to get up at least a half hour earlier than your children so you can be showered and dressed before they get up. Slipping away for “me time” after the kids are awake is virtually impossible in most households, unless you stick your kids in front of a TV, which then makes getting them out of the house even harder. Another option: Shower the night before to save time in the morning.

4. Set up a family communication center

Hunting around for a school permission slip five minutes before you’re supposed to leave is a surefire way to ramp up the morning stress level. That’s why Crew, author of The Organized Mom, recommends carving out a space (not the cluttered kitchen counter) where you can keep the family calendar, school forms and other papers that need to be acted on in the near future. And plan to get those permission slips signed and back in the schoolbags the night before.

5. Involve kids in the morning routine

“Young children thrive on structure and knowing what the next step is,” says Alvord. So have them help you create a schedule for the mornings, like this:

6:15 a.m.: Wake up

6:30 a.m.: Get dressed

6:45 a.m.: Eat breakfast

7:15 a.m.: Brush teeth

7:30 a.m.: Put on shoes and coat

If your child is a big dawdler, try using timers for tasks like getting dressed and brushing teeth.

6. Make morning tasks fun

Keeping things light and playful is often the key to getting results from young kids. If your child is competitive, turn getting dressed into a game of who can do it the fastest. Come up with a silly song set to a familiar tune like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (e.g., “Put, Put, Put on Your Shoes”) to encourage your child to move from one task to another.

7. Bend the rules for kids who are not feeling well

A child who’s not feeling great (but not necessarily sick enough to stay home) often has an especially hard time getting out the door in the morning, so it’s best to make the routine as easy as possible. Skip the usual morning chores and tasks, and let your child rest on the couch until it’s time to go.

8. Schedule time for breakfast and play

“Breakfast doesn’t have to be large or take a long time, but kids should sit down while they eat,” says Alvord. “Eating while seated at a table and allowing time to eat at a leisurely pace promotes good eating habits.” (If your child has a cold, don’t forget to serve extra fluids.)

Finally, try to work in 15 minutes of quiet playtime right before your child needs to leave the house. It can serve as a reward for being ready on time. Best of all, it helps keep the morning routine calm and peaceful. “If I’m rushing my kids at the last minute, they’re much slower and resistant,” says Kim Walker, a mother of two in San Francisco.

About the Author

Madonna Behen writes about women's and children's health for many acclaimed national magazines, including Woman's Day, Women's Health and Real Simple. A mother of three, she was health director of Woman's Day for a decade.


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