Taming morning chaos

Most families I coach struggle with their morning routines. One shoe is always misplaced. Someone’s always in danger of missing the bus or being late to a meeting. Mornings are hard because of all that has to happen in a limited amount of time (not to mention that this all takes place at the start of the day  when not everyone is operating at top speed).

The problem with having a stressful morning is that it sets the tone for your whole day. If the day starts in a frenzied rush, with yelling matches about appropriate footwear and who’s picking who up from where, it’s hard to recover. But, for working parents, the morning may be one of the only pockets of predictable time all week that you get to spend with your kids. Wouldn’t it be nice if that time together could be pleasant? It can be.

The key is to streamline the morning so it’s predictable and easy for everyone to implement.  There are five major anchors of the day ( wake up, out-the-door, after school, dinner, bedtime), and if there’s one or two worth engineering like crazy – wake up and out-the-door are it. Here’s how to  get your mornings running on autopilot.

First, remove as much decision-making from the morning as possible. Decisions take time and add stress. If you can decide ahead of time on most things (often the night before) mornings will go much more smoothly. This includes picking out clothes (for adults and kids), getting the coffeemaker prepped, packing all bags and backpacks (including homework and signed forms), and checking the schedule for the next day to ensure equipment is ready for extracurricular activities (cleats, uniforms, etc.)

Second, wake everyone with a hug and kiss.  No one likes to be woken up with, “Quick! Get up! We’re late! Get dressed!” That’s a jolting way to start the day. Instead, commit to making the first five to seven minutes of each child’s day sweet and gentle. Waking up is a daily opportunity for close, connected time between parents and kids, where you can have a little chat and get in a quick snuggle.

Third, create a consistent structure. If you take the above steps, what remains are things that can only happen in the morning:  waking up, hygiene routines, getting dressed, eating breakfast, cleaning up from breakfast (so the house is ready for some family time after a day of work and school), and (if you desire) some time left over to play a game or read a book. Map out who does what, and make it consistent so kids (and adults) know what to do.

You may be thinking,  “I know this. I know we should do all this stuff the night before and we still don’t do it.  It’s hard to imagine getting everyone to cooperate once you’ve fallen into a pattern.” Well, fair enough. Try having a family meeting to engage everyone in the goal of changing the whole approach to mornings.  You can share the value that stress-free (or at the very least low-stress) mornings are another way you and your family can take care of each other. It’s also a regular opportunity to teach your kids valuable life skills. They’re learning how to plan in advance, follow a schedule, communicate clearly and follow through. Mornings are a microcosm with lessons that can be applied throughout their lives.

In this way, mornings are a gift, not a burden.