Back to school means back to the weekday morning grind of getting your entire family up, dressed, fed, and out the door on time. In my household, this morning madness is often accompanied by my children moving at a snail’s pace, a lot of indecisiveness, and a few bouts of complaining for good measure.
Most mornings I wake up with the optimism of Mary Poppins. Then, by the time the second glass of milk is spilled on the floor and the dog has taken off with the kids’ shoes, I turn into the Hulk. Rushing out the door a disheveled mess, I often envy the moms who seem to have it all together at school drop-off. What is the secret to a less stressful morning?
Intent on making positive changes to my family’s morning routine, I began testing a few things to help make our mornings run more smoothly. Aside from waking up earlier than my children to clear my head, here are six additional changes that have made the biggest difference in our household during back-to-school mornings.
6 Helpful Hacks for Back-to-School Mornings
1. Prep the night before
This one is hard because all I want to do after I put my kids to bed is plop on the couch and watch Bravo. However, if I put off prepping for the day until the next morning, I am guaranteed to have an anxiety attack before 7:30 a.m.
My must-dos before bed are:
- Cleaning the kitchen
- Setting the coffee maker for the morning
- Packing lunches and snacks
- Laying out children’s clothes for the morning (the kids do this before bedtime)
- Laying out my clothes for the morning
I’m always very grumpy when I’m cleaning and prepping for the day ahead. Yet, when I wake up in the morning to a clean kitchen and packed lunches ready to go, I’m grateful that I have the time to enjoy my coffee before the house erupts and give myself a well-deserved pat on the back.
2. Make sure kids are getting enough sleep
First and foremost, a good night’s rest is essential for getting the day started on the right track. If my children need to be awake by 7 a.m. every day, then I know that a bedtime no later than 8:30 p.m. is a must. Now that my children are in elementary school, after-school activities and lessons tend to creep later and later into the day. My husband and I both agree that sleep and a healthy diet are priorities for our children. That’s why I make sure not to schedule anything that will keep them away from home past 7:30 p.m., when we begin the bedtime process.
3. Use kid-friendly alarm clocks
My son loves waking up to an alarm clock. It’s a small, square, blue neon gadget that we bought for him at a specialty store. Because it gives off a dim light at night, it also serves as his night light. He makes sure to set it every night and jumps out of bed the moment it starts to chime.
My daughter, on the other hand, loves her sleep. Therefore, I am her alarm clock. Ten minutes before she needs to get out of bed, I quietly open her shades, turn off her sound machine, and gently rub her back. This helps ease her way into her morning routine.
4. Have a set morning routine
Outside of my children’s bedroom doors is a chart we’ve put together that outlines everything they need to do before heading downstairs for breakfast. They know to change out of their pajamas, brush their teeth and hair, make their beds, and head downstairs.
Teaching them how to get themselves ready in the morning has been a huge game-changer. It’s significantly improved our mornings. They also know that breakfast is at 8 a.m. sharp (even on the weekends), and there are no breakfast orders. It’s taken a (long) while, but they’ve learned to eat what I put in front of them for each meal without whining or complaining. Our mornings run so much smoother when I’m not making three different breakfasts.
5. Utilize a visual countdown timer
After months of having to literally drag my children out of the house in the mornings, I was tired of losing my patience and feeling constantly overwhelmed—there had to be a better way. Then, I realized I was neglecting a key factor of childhood development when putting time constraints on my kids: they had very little concept of what time actually is. Giving them 15 minutes for this or 10 minutes for that meant nothing to them. I quickly went on Amazon and ordered a simple visual kitchen timer for each kid–one that clearly delineated how much time was left for each morning task with a red wedge that aligned with the minutes remaining.
The next morning, I explained to them how it worked. They would be able to tell how much time we had for each morning activity by seeing how much red space was left; the red space would get smaller and smaller as their time was nearing a close. Suddenly, they were fine turning the TV off in 15 minutes after one show or finishing their breakfast quickly so they had “red time” leftover to play before school. They just had to see it.
6. Stay calm
Sometimes the chaos of the mornings gets the best of me. Before I know it, I’m yelling at my kids to hurry up because we should have left five minutes ago. Having an angry mom is the absolute worst way for my kids to start their days. It’s taken some time, but I’ve learned to choose my battles and let all of the small things go. If my son wants to wear cowboy boots with sweatpants and a tank top, then go ahead! When my daughter refuses to wear socks with the shoes I know will give her blisters, then so be it. Eventually, they will learn from their choices and hopefully make better ones as time goes on.