7 Tips for Keeping School-Day Mornings Calm and Cheerful.

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

Unbelievable, but school is already well underway. And that means that the early-morning scramble is underway too.

I wrote this list a while back, but I realized this morning that I needed to go over it again and remind myself of what I need to do keep things running smoothly. I want a calm, unrushed, cheerful morning — not one with lots of whining, yelling, and searching for misplaced items. (And that’s just me!)

I had a major insight about the challenge of keeping our school-day mornings moving along: 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 I try to follow to keep the mornings calm:

1. Get enough sleep myself. I’m good at putting my kids to sleep at a decent hour, and I need to be just as disciplined with myself. It can be tempting to stay up late, to enjoy the peace and quiet, but 6:00 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. I also try to observe the evening tidy-up, so I don’t feel like I should rush around tidying up the apartment.

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 7:00 a.m., we all go down to breakfast. At 7:20, time to get dressed. 7:40, time to leave for the walk to school. Knowing these exact times keeps my daughters moving and stops them 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 several huge mugs of coffee before we leave the house.

7. Jump! This is my new favorite resolution. Yes, just jump up and down a few times. It will make you feel more energetic, lighthearted, and silly — a great tone to start the day.

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.

The days are long, but the years are short.

* Are you a Savvy Auntie? Check out this great site for “cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers, and all women who love kids.”

* Speaking of “The days are long, but the years are short,” if you haven’t watched my little one-minute video, you might enjoy it.

  • LivewithFlair

    Love this! Also, if you dear ones are in a bad mood, I totally second the jump tip. Having everyone do a few jumping jacks helps elevate the mood. The doctor who wrote “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” suggested this for children who wake up cranky. The jumping jacks give them a quick brain wake up! Thanks! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com

  • Indeed… COFFEE was the sole remedy for being able to wake up early, sometimes before sunrise, to go to school. And coffee for me is still a remedy, just for waking up. 🙂

  • Shari

    Something that has made a huge difference for us is that I started taking my shower at night instead of in the morning. That way I can stay focused on the kids in the a.m. (Yes, you need low-maintenance hair, but it’s worth it for me.) Also, I MUST wake up to clean kitchen, which means no matter how tired, I must get the dishes done at night. Nothing makes me grumpier than facing dirty dishes in the morning when all I want is a peaceful cup of coffee.

  • Shari

    Another thing we’ve recently discovered. Our 5 year old can wake up pretty grumpy (and of course that mood quickly spreads throughout the house). The faster we get a little food in her, the better, so we’ve started giving her a little snack to hold her over until breakfast is ready for the family. I assume this is probably a blood sugar thing, and it seems to help.

    • gretchenrubin

      This was a BIG thing for us for a while. I would go to the kitchen early and
      get breakfast ready, so that I could put food in the mouth of my younger
      daughter the minute she was awake. Now we don’t need to do that, but it
      really helped.

  • Hollyburnham

    Frankly….this advice is good to follow if there are only adults in your house.

  • courtneydirks

    I love the tip to sing, especially in the shower. You may end up laughing at yourself like I usually do when I catch myself singing in the shower or at least, entertain anyone else in your house within earshot! I love listening to others sing in the shower, pure entertainment!

    Also, I find that a nice long walk with a good cup of coffee or chai ALWAYS sets my day off on the right start!

  • BerniceWood

    I second the waking up earlier than your kids, and being prepared the night before. And if you don’t have a coffee pot with a timer, for heaven’s sake, go get one! I usually gulp the first mug down pretty quickly, then the second I enjoy a little slower.
    Having a rhthym, a routine, is absolutely best! Everyone knows what to expect!

  • Regarding #4: I made a checklist for each of my kids of things they need to do in the morning and had it laminated–they love to check things off with a dry-erase marker. For the pre-reader, I used Google Image Search to find goofy images to put next to each item (a high-heeled shoe next to “put on your shoes,” a silly hairstyle for “brush your hair”).

    I also set the table the night before, including breakfast dishes, boxes of cereal and sorting out the vitamins. I even put a hairbrush, rubber band, toothbrush and toothpaste at each place. It cuts down on the aimless wandering between tasks.

    This all sounds very rigid but it actually makes for a very lovely, non-stressful morning.


  • Chris

    Gretchen, I appreciate your consistently useful ideas and inspiration-thank you. Our mornings got better when I made a velcro chart. We have five pictures of the things that need to be done, most featuring my 5 year old doing them. She moves the monkey (her current favorite animal) from one end of the vine to the other when a specific job is done. Now, instead of nagging and cajoling each step of the way, I can ask how she’s doing with her chart. Makes me happy.

  • I find having an *evening ritual* makes for much smoother mornings. My evening ritual consists of:1. Do a quick tidy up.2. Preempt things that cause morning panic.3. Prepare the breakfast zone.4. Make a list of things to handle tomorrow.5. Set the alarm (if you need it).6. Do something relaxing for 30 minutes before bed.7. Brush and floss your teeth.8. Wash your face.9. Say goodnight10. Think of things you’re grateful for. And Gretchen, I love your idea of saying ‘no’ only when it really matters. 🙂
    PS I go into more detail here: http://www.getorganizedwizard.com/blog/2009/08/organize-your-evening-ritual-10-things-to-do-at-night-for-a-good-morning/

  • Debbie

    I’m with all the morning ideas. Now I just need bedtime ideas. I always hope bedtime is going to be a nice pajama time to snuggle and read. When in reality it is meltdown central with endless prodding to stay in bed. My older two (4 and 6) go to bed fairly early and get 12 hours of sleep each night so I don’t think it’s a bedtime thing. Any ideas for our witching hours?

    • ariadne

      we just learned about the “silent fairy”… we have 3 little boys, ages 5,4 and 2. the silent fairy comes along and leaves them a tiny treat (a gummy vitamin! they look and taste like gymmy bears) if they stay in bed and are silent once the lights go out and we’ve said “good night”. WORKS LIKE A CHARM!!! bedtime battles were unbearable up until we invited the silent fairy to our house.

  • Laura Carroll

    We’ve found the precise routine is so important at our house! The best way I’ve found to make it work is to have a “morning mix” of songs: my daughter chose them, and she knows that she gets one song to stay in bed, one song to get dressed, a song to brush her teeth, etc. It is a fun way to start the day, and it keeps me from having to nag — “have you brushed your teeth, yet?!” — which is definitely not how I want to start that day.

    • Leslie

      That’s a great idea! My mom used to wake us up with the Sound of Music soundtrack in the morning. Nothing like a little Julie Andrews to make you bounce out of bed!

  • Yvee

    On tip #2 to sing in the morning – My daughter learns vocal music and practices most mornings in the kitchen while I’m fixing breakfast/lunch. Hilarity does NOT ensue when there’s tunelessness 😀 One man’s meat…

  • I really like the singing part and jumping part…and ofcourse, the CAFFEINE!!

    My kids always need their OJ to help them wake up and get into the mood…so we start there. My son enjoys being able to play before the bell rings at school so I use that as an impetus to get out the door on time.

    Thanks for these great reminders. Also…love that quote of yours “the days are long, but the years are short” I remind myself of this several times a day. Thank you.

    BTW, I am halfway through your book and just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying it, connecting with what you write about, and being inspired. Thanks so much!

  • I rejoice in the fact that all four of my kids are 12 and over, because the biggest boost in getting them up and ready is a morning shower and a cup of coffee -for them! They jump out of bed to get the first of the hot water, and even have time to enjoy a good breakfast.

  • Melanieclark

    Instead of singing, I bought a used iPod and alarm dock and loaded it up with my kids’ favorite songs. Now they wake up to music they love and mornings are so much better! I would have never come up with this if you hadn’t suggested singing 🙂

  • Practicing Mama

    Thanks for these tips. And couldn’t help but notice the “days are long, but the years are short” at the end of your piece, which is the tagline to my blog
    (http://practicingparenthood.blogspot.com), which I finally got the gumption to start after reading your book this spring!

  • thank you so much for these great reminders!!! the best is to wake up a bit earlier – on the days I actually accomplish that feat, things run so much more smoothly in our household 🙂

    I love to read your blog also – thanks so much for keeping up posting – I don’t make comments too much, but please know that I read all of your posts!

  • Quotesabouthappiness

    These seven tips are really very good and informative.

  • Liyana

    Wow! I’ve read the post and the comments, and they are all amazing ideas!!!!!
    I didn’t realize that mornings could be as fun as you all said!!!!


  • James

    Thank you for these awesome reminders! I really need to get up a little earlier though. I agree with singing. My 8yo daughter and I sing T-Swift every morning on the drive to school…with the windows rolled up of course. This always puts her in a good mood :). Your articles are spot on. Love it!