Manage Morning Mayhem

Start the day friendly, not frantic.
By Ann Matturro Gault



Manage Morning Mayhem

Your clock radio goes off at 6:30 and like a runner out of the starting block, you begin the morning rush. You shower, dress, wake the kids, get them breakfast, fix school lunches, attempt a cup of coffee, find missing homework, pack backpacks, brush a couple bedheads, double-knot your 1st grader's sneakers and dash out the door. It's downright alarming how much gets accomplished before the school bell rings. If getting to 8 a.m. feels like an entire day's work, some simple a.m. strategies may be all that's necessary to put the "good" back in to your morning.

Anticipate Tomorrow Today 
Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student, says our success in the morning starts the night before. "No matter how much money you have, you can't buy more time. But with a little planning, you can save it." Another key to efficiency, according to family management expert and best-selling author Kathy Peel, is the ability to live in two tenses. "Successful moms are able to function in the present — dealing with demands of the here and now — while also anticipating the needs of the future," Peel explains.

Lunch: While cooking dinner (or cleaning it up), for example, get a jump on the next day's lunches. Have the kids clean out their lunch boxes and add water bottles, napkins, whole fruits like apples or oranges and other no-spoil food (boxed raisins, crackers, baggies filled with pretzels or nuts). "Whatever you can cross off your list tonight gains you precious minutes in the morning," says Goldberg. "Remember, most leftovers put between two pieces of bread make a delicious midday meal. Or, skip the bread and roll deli ham or turkey between cheese slices — you can't get much quicker and easier than that!"

Clothes: Other nighttime tasks should include readying backpacks (and your coffee pot) and selecting the next day's attire. Richmond, Virginia-based psychologist and mom of three Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., says it's easy to make wardrobe selection fun. "Show your kids how to lay clothing on the floor to look like them — shirt on top, pants on the bottom, accessories to match and socks underneath."

Peel recommends designating an area in the closet for school clothes. "Tie a ribbon to the rod and push to one side of the closet. Explain to your child that everything to the right of the ribbon works for school. Slow dressers are often confused about what to wear." Stacy DeBroff, mother of two and founder of, takes the guesswork out of the equation completely. "When doing laundry, I fold coordinating outfits together before I put them away in dresser drawers."

Calendar: For children ages 7 and up, checking the family calendar should become a nightly ritual. A large, centrally located calendar is vital. Some families code entries by assigning each family member a color. "That way it's easy for kids to distinguish their schedules from everyone else's and it gives them a sense that we're all in this together!" says Peel, who is also the mother of three.

Goldberg believes that consulting the calendar promotes self-reliance. "When Jessica sees ‘ballet' on the calendar for Thursday, she'll know to put her leotard and dance shoes in her backpack Wednesday night," the former school librarian explains. It's a skill that truly contributes to lifelong success.

Rise to the Occasion
What's the best way to get sleepyheads out of bed? Children under 7 can't developmentally understand the concept of time — how to manage it comes even later — but even 1st graders can respond to a bell, buzzer, or favorite song. Encouraging a child to wake up on his own, without a gentle nudge from mom, can be a time-saver. But Glasser doesn't recommend alarm clocks for all children. "Some kids feel stressed by a buzzer or bell," she warns. "Others will be eager to take on the responsibility, but talk to them about it first."

Technologically savvy preteens may enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to set their cell phone, computer, or wristwatch to wake them. Starting the day with their favorite music may also be a draw. For super sleepyheads, be sure to put the clock, watch, or iPod across the room. This tactic forces kids to get out of bed and get moving.

Silence Stress — Yours and Theirs 
Two hours of lead time should be enough to get your family through the morning and out the door on time. But as Glasser points out, mom sets the tone for the day, so you may want to start yours early enough to build in some solo time. "Kids respond to our mood and stress level, so it's important to be calm and upbeat for them," she says. Her advice: "Take the time you need to get your act together first! If the family rises at 7, wake up at 6:30. Enjoy a cup of coffee alone, meditate, pray, or shower before everyone else is awake. The best gift you can give your child in the morning is the feeling of being happy to start the day."

Gentle reminders: Childhood development may be partially to blame for morning stress. "Kids' brains aren't the same as ours: they're still developing. They can't absorb much more than small bits of information at a time and may be overwhelmed by the amount of information and directives you're doling out in the a.m.," says Glasser.

Instead of issuing repeated reminders, Glasser recommends using a visual prompt. List morning tasks (bed-making, dressing, brushing teeth and hair, eating breakfast, etc.) on a piece of brightly colored posterboard that you keep in the kitchen (or try our printable checklist). "Instead of barking orders and hurrying your child along, tell him to check the chart so he knows what still needs to be done. It sure beats nagging."

You can make the morning chore chart even more playful by using a digital camera. "On the weekend, take photos of your kids hamming it up as they go through their morning routine. Print out the photos and attach to the chart," Glasser suggests.

Keep it quiet: Television can really add to morning chaos as well. Forbid kids' programming before school Monday through Thursday. Leaving the house on time can be rewarded on Friday morning with 10 minutes of TV if (and only if) everyone is completely ready to walk out the door for school.

Easy edibles: Another effective way to end dawdling is to insist that no one arrive at the breakfast table in pajamas. Have children get completely dressed for school first. And don't even think about making anything more complicated than cereal on weekdays. For variety, serve hard boiled eggs (made in advance, of course) and plain yogurt — instead of milk — with cereal. "If kids enjoy pancakes and French toast, make extra on the weekend and freeze them. Then, pop in toaster or microwave for a quick and easy before school breakfast," says Peel.

Groomed for success: A small spray bottle of water is Miracle Mist for hair that won't behave. The next time your son wakes up looking like a rooster, dampen his hair with a few squirts of water and brush into place. Voila! If shoe-tying and ponytail-making are making you late everyday, set aside 20 minutes to practice on Saturday. And try these handy hints:

  • Dampen shoestrings with a sprinkle of water first to make slippery nylon laces easier to handle.
  • Wrap a week's worth of hair elastics around the end of your daughter's brush to keep them on hand — no more lengthy searches when it's time for hair-styling.

Your turn: What do you do keep mornings smooth? Share your tips on our Parents Facebook page!

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