Just Another Manic Morning

Tips to nix AM issues.

For families today, being frantic is often the norm in the morn. On weekday mornings, everyone seems on the go, rushing to get to school and work on time. And on weekends, parents hurry to take their children to rehearsals, lessons, games and parties. It's rare for a family to have a calm start to the day.

Why must chaotic morning behavior be addressed? Parents and children affected by the morning tumult tend to feel the intensity for the next few hours. It often takes frazzled children a long time to settle down when they get to school, and parents have just as hard a time centering themselves after their children leave the house. It's no wonder then that most people would agree that a manic morning is a terrible way to start the day.

What characterizes a manic morning for most families? Multiple power struggles arise as children wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack their belongings and leave for school. It's easy for one small conflict to snowball and spur additional problems for parents and children at work and school, as well as in their daily relationships.

When I counsel my clients, I ask families to take a step back and recognize that although life in the 21st century is frantic, there is a better way to start each day than by being frazzled.

Try these easy tactics to help your family's mornings go smoother:

  1. Awaken earlier. For starters, try to wake up earlier yourself. I know it is difficult for many parents to get up earlier than they do, but extra time creates a world of difference as to how the morning will go. By eliminating any need to rush, parents can project a calm demeanor that may be mirrored back by their children. Children might also need an earlier wake up time.
  2. Focus on changing your behavior first. If parents are calm, their children will be calm; if parents are frantic, their children will be frazzled. Give yourself ample time in the morning to slow down, which will put you in a stable state of mind. Practice this mantra in the shower before you see your children: “I will be calm.” Parents swear the mantra works!
  3. Prepare as much as you can the night before. To avoid last-minute rushing and potential problems in the morning, try to do as much as you can each night before school. This also means setting the table for breakfast before bedtime. I used to do this when my children were young. Seeing the set table always pleasantly astonished me when I walked into the kitchen in the morning. I felt as though some phantom butler had gotten things ready for me.
  4. Limit breakfast food choices. Parents often give their children too many choices, causing indecision and added stress. Options can create unnecessary dilemmas if you use them for everything. Instead, offer choice A (cereal) and choice B (an English muffin), and stand firm. At this point, choice C (eggs) is not an option. Hold your ground until your child agrees. Unfortunately, many parents lose their resolve in the morning, increasing their tension level when they give in to choice C, which is a bad choice for the parent. By succumbing to choice C, you lose credibility and mornings become battlegrounds. Plus, your children learn that if they push you hard enough they can get anything they want.
  5. Reinforce positive behavior by linking praise to the specific behavior kids improve. Say something like: "I'm so glad you're able to eat and enjoy breakfast in the morning. The morning seems to go so much more smoothly now."
  6. Make your child's lunch (or have your child make it) at night. I know the response some of you are thinking, "But it won't be as fresh." Ask yourself: Am I trying to raise food critics or am I trying to raise children who are in control of their lives and can go off to school in a good frame of mind? In years to come, your child will not remember if the bread was as fresh as possible, but he or she will remember having constant battles and misunderstandings in the mornings.
  7. Pick out your child's school clothes before bedtime. This is another area of difficulty for many families: deciding what to wear when the clock is ticking. As always, I recommend that you discuss with your child what to wear the night before. If you don't, your child may be shocked to find out that what you had in mind for school clothes was totally different than what he or she had in mind. Use this strategy for your office attire, too. It will save you lots of time in the morning.
  8. Get the bookbags ready the night before. After your children finish their homework, encourage kids to get into the habit of filling and organizing their bookbags and putting them near the door. The next morning, a packed bag near the door eliminates the last-minute panic of gathering up homework and remembering where all the materials for school are, including one's bookbag.

Many families have the same morning complaint: My children go right to the TV, and I can't pull them away. Though many parents are uncomfortable with early morning TV time, it can be helpful if used correctly.

There are some high-quality television programs. Look in your local TV listings to find out when the educational children's shows air, and record them. This gives you total control. You can make television the positive consequence for smooth mornings. An added bonus, you can stop the program when it's time to go to school, and your children can continue watching it at a later time or date. "I'll miss the end of the show," will never be an excuse again. TV can be educational and relaxing for children of all ages.

Consider the contrary. It's negative to scream, "If you don't get away from that TV and start getting ready for school, there's no TV for a week. "Instead, use a positive approach like, "Let's try getting ready quickly tomorrow and then you can watch TV until it's time to leave."

Start this new approach by sitting down and telling your children that you are going to try something different. If the kids can get washed, get dressed and eat breakfast in a certain time frame, then they may watch TV (a positive reward). Explain that the faster the kids get ready, the more time they will have to watch TV.

When your morning goes smoothly, your day typically goes smoothly. Enabling your children to deal with the pressures of life by sending them off every day with a sense of calm is a true gift. A bonus: Enjoying the time before your children start their days away from home enhances each individual day, and the way kids lead their adult lives. It's never too late to help your family improve the morning routine.