This Wednesday: Six tips for keeping school-day mornings calm and cheery.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for keeping school-day mornings calm and cheery.

Unbelievable, but school is starting up again. And that means that the early-morning scramble is starting, too.

I had a major insight about the challenge of keeping our school-day mornings moving along smoothly and peacefully.

Here’s the insight: I was focused on chivvying my children along. Wrong! I needed to worry about ME.

When I work on my own habits, mornings are much easier.

Here are some tips for keeping the mornings calm:

1. Get enough sleep yourself. I’m good at putting my kids to sleep at a decent hour, but not so good about doing it myself. It’s tempting to stay up late, to enjoy the peace and quiet, but 6:30 a.m. comes fast, and being overtired makes the morning much tougher.

2. Sing. As goofy as it sounds, I try to sing in the morning. It’s hard both to sing and to maintain a grouchy mood, and it sets a happy tone for everyone—particularly in my case, because I’m tone deaf, and my audience finds my singing a source of great hilarity.

3. Say “no” only when it really matters. Wear a bright red shirt with bright orange pants and bright green shoes? Sure. As Samuel Johnson said, “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”

4. Get organized the night before. It’s so hard to take the trouble to wrangle all the stuff together the night before, but it really pays off. Those last-minute dashes for homework sheets or empty paper-towel rolls are hard to bear with equanimity.

5. Have a precise routine. This sounds counter-intuitive, and I’m not sure it would work for everyone, but in our house, we have a NASA-like countdown to get to school. At 6:45 a.m., the Big Girl can go downstairs to breakfast (we let her watch TV during breakfast! Aack, I know that’s bad, but we do). At 7:15, she leaves the table to get dressed. At 7:45, we leave the house to walk to school. Knowing these exact times keeps the Big Girl moving and stops her from repeating, “Just a minute, just a minute.”

6. Caffeine. If you need your caffeine, make sure you can get your caffeine! I usually manage to drink a huge mug of black tea and a Diet Coke before we leave the house.

A friend of mine works full-time and has two young sons. She told me, “For a long time, our mornings were awful — lots of crabbiness and procrastination, me yelling at everyone to hurry up. Then it hit me: I don’t get to spend that much time with my kids during the week, and a big part of that time is during the morning. I made changes so that it became good family time.”

For her, the secret was to get up earlier. She hated to lose thirty minutes of sleep, but that extra half hour made the difference between a relaxed, cheerful morning and a rushed, difficult morning.

It’s worth the effort to try to get mornings running smoothly, because the morning sets the tone for the whole day – for everyone.

Via the great site Pick the Brain, I found a fascinating list on Steve Olson’s blog, 10 things I wish I had never believed. I was most intrigued by: ‘Money is the root of all evil,” “School is the best place for kids to learn,” and “Admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness.”

My Secrets of Adulthood (see left column) is my version of this list — for example, I realized that I wish I had never believed “It’s a sign of weakness or incompetence to ask for help.” I’m going to try to tackle this question in the “things I wish I had never believed” form, too. Very interesting.

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  • Your tips are right on target! I love that your family likes to hear you sing even though you’re tone deaf…I sing quite well, but MY kids ask me to stop! (They say they can’t think or talk over my singing.)
    We don’t start back-to-school until next Wednesday, and these tips are helping remind me what I need to prepare for. For instance, while I am already getting the boys back into school bedtimes, I forgot that I need to start getting up earlier!
    Another item I would add to the list is “have a list”. I have a whiteboard list for each family member of what they need to do in the morning. I can add things to bring for that day, or reminders about after-school, etc. I don’t have to do the remembering & reminding for everyone!

  • My favorite tip has been this- no TV in the morning! No matter what. The kids don’t watch TV, my husband and I don’t either. I put this into practice when my oldest started kindergarten 13 years ago and never wavered.
    It remains one of the most common complaints I hear from friends, how they can’t tear their kids away from TV to get ready for school on time.

  • tino

    I have a suggestion. Skip the kids altogether, thus eliminating any problems. 😉

  • Gretchen,
    Thanks for the link love!
    We are just learning this one… My 5 year old just started his private Montessori school for the fall so the scramble is on. I’d say getting organized the night before is the most important to reducing morning stress.
    Thanks again!

  • Re: the 10 things I wish I had never believed meme.
    If you did not read the John Taylor Gatto articles that Steve linked to (under “School is the best place for kids to learn”), you should. They certainly got me questioning my assumptions about education.
    And here is a video in a similar (but more optimistic) vein from TED:

  • John K

    Diet Coke in the morning?? Uh…isn’t that, oh how shall we say, unhealthy. Sets a bad example for the kids.
    Same goes for watching TV in the morning.

  • KCCC

    When my son started school a few years ago, we had some difficult mornings. I sat down and analyzed where the “knots” were (my term for logistical or emotional tangles). We got up earlier, set “time marks” (by 7:00, we need to be eating breakfast…). My most brilliant idea was setting an alarm in the front of the house for when we needed to be done with breakfast (that was our “knot”).
    It is so worth the attention to have peace in the morning, and start the day with love. 🙂

  • Great tips – especially #1. I think our “better mornings” actually start from the moment my kids walk in the door from school the day before. We have an after school routine that begins with them coming to my desk (I work from home) and we review their homework which is written in a planner required by the school. I review and sign any papers they bring home and immediately file or return them to their bags. Homework is then completed immediately and returned to their bags which are kept on a bench by the front door. When the homework is completed, they have a chore list on the fridge broken down by day of the week. They check their chores and also the lunch menu to decide if they want to make their lunches for the next day. Once homework and chores are completed, both my kids know they have the rest of the day/evening to do whatever they wish which is very motivating. At bedtime, they lay out their clothes for the following morning which helps make our morning routine quick and painless.

  • Oh, I have tried so often to wean the kids off of morning TV! We will make it a few days or even a week, and then one of the kids wakes up extra-grumpy and I give in. Maybe I can make a deal with them – no TV for them, and I will promise not to check email or surf the internet in the morning.
    A Flylady tip has helped me – get dressed all the way to your shoes right after you wake up or shower. You really do move faster and feel more awake when you are fully dressed than when you shuffle around in slippers.

  • NIgel Kebry

    Ban TV in the weekday mornings! Don’t compromise on this. And this includes your watching of the news or “serious” TV. You must set the example and do not give in even occasionally. Kids do get used to it eventually. The trouble with TV is that it adds its own routine that has to be worked around – things only happen during ad breaks. It also prevents conversations around the dining table which is where you learn about what your children are up to at school.

  • Great tips! I’ll add 1 more:
    I use a “NASA-like” schedule myself, but mine also includes five minutes for unexpected emergencies — the son who changes his mind about buying lunch, or the daughter who suddenly remembers her outfit needs sneakers because it’s a PE day. Four days out of the week, we end up sitting quietly for those 5 minutes — talking about the upcoming day. But on that 5th day, I’m grateful not to have everything fall apart.
    PS – I’ll have a Diet Coke, too — after oatmeal, milk and a vitamin, I’m not worried about setting a bad example.

  • Kate

    No difference between Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi in my case) in the morning and a cup of coffee with artificial sweetener. My kids understand they can’t have caffeine and we don’t allow sugary drinks for reasons of empty calories and cavities, so it doesn’t become a bad example, just an adult thing like coffee. We allow TV as a reward for being completely ready early…so they only get it a few times per month.

  • Thera

    The “no t.v.” in the morning is wonderful, but not realistic, there are shows on, the kids know they are on, and the kids want to watch them. I found a great motivator and some balance, in our family there is no t.v. in the morning until everything is done and ready!

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