Do you feel like you've run a marathon by 9 a.m. every day? You're not alone. Mornings -- especially if you work outside the home, have school-age kids, or both -- can be the most crazy-making part of a parent's day. We talked to professional organizers, life coaches and parenting experts to get nag-free tips on streamlining and simplifying weekday mornings. Read on to find out how to get out the door on time -- and maybe even enjoy a morning cup of coffee.
Start before school does
Routines get lax and bedtimes get later in summer. If you wait until the school year starts to try to get on a new schedule, you'll all be in for a rude awakening. "Ease your children back into routines a week to two before school starts depending on how irregular their schedule became," says Tanna Clark, a professional organizer in Nashville, TN. That means slowly pushing back bedtime —as well as getting up earlier.
Do it the night before
"The rule of thumb is that everything that does not have to be done in the morning should be done the night before," says Alexandra Mayzler, director of Thinking Caps, a tutoring company in New York City. "Short of sleeping in tomorrow's clothing, kids should pack their backpack, prepare clothing, think about what will need to be done in the morning, and set the alarm clock. Set aside the same slot of time, either right before bed or maybe before reading time, to do the morning prep work."
Everything has its place
Ann Dolin, an education specialist in Fairfax, VA and author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, suggests creating a "launch pad," where all school-related stuff — backpack, lunch box, library books, lunch money, permission slips, etc. — is stored and prepped. "A launch pad can be a box, large basket, dishpan or any container big enough to house your child's school items, says Dolin. "Put it in a well-traveled area, preferably near the door your child exits and enters going to and from school."
Get dressed, comb hair, make bed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on shoes, grab your backpack — and out the door! A morning routine chart — with images for pre-readers — can keep easily distracted kiddos focused. If you're not arty enough to make a chart, you can buy one, like On Task On Time for Kids, a big timer you can customize with stickers that prompt kids with the next to-do.
"For kids going to sleep at night means they are on their own," says Betsy Brown Braun, child development and behavioral specialist, and author of You're Not The Boss Of Me. "I look at the morning as the oasis after the drought." In other words, kids can be especially needy for Mommy time in the morning, which may not exactly mesh with your desire to rush everyone out the door. Taking a moment first thing to reconnect with a snuggle and a little conversation can go a long way toward quelling attention-getting behavior later. If they start acting up as the morning goes on, see what you can do to re-establish a connection. Maybe getting dressed in Mommy and Daddy's room will be just what he needs to get his pants on.
Get dressed first
The biggest hurdle in the race to get out the door? Getting dressed. Braun suggests getting it out of the way first thing, teaching kids to suit up even before they come downstairs for breakfast. The night before, have them lay their clothes out on the floor, crime scene style, to make it fun and easy. Buy clothes that are easy-on and easy-off — think elastic waists and big buttons. And let go of the idea that your kids will head off to school looking like they belong in a catalog. Remember — self-reliance is more important than outfits that match.
Make breakfast DIY
Sharon Danzger, a professional organizer in northern New Jersey, suggests buying yourself a bit more time to get ready by empowering kids to fix breakfast for themselves. Save hot breakfasts for the weekend, and instead stick with quick, no-cook options. Have cereal and bowls out where kids can reach them, and keep milk, yogurts, and cheese accessible from the bottom shelves and drawers in the fridge.
Follow the leader
Teachers are great at making jobs seem exciting and fun — a trick parents can steal. If you have more than one kid, let them take turns being the morning leader. "This child is in charge of getting certain tasks done and helping motivate everyone to get out the door," says Erin Munroe, a child therapist in the Boston, MA area. "He or she also gets some sort of bonus for being the leader, like picking the radio station."
Play some tunes
The right music can give kids the get-up-and-go that they need to plow through the morning routine. "Create a play list of music that your children like and have it last for 10 to 15 minutes, says Grace Brooke, a professional organizer in Santa Rosa, CA. You can even use music like a timer — when the Jonas Brothers song comes on, you should be getting on your shoes!
Get up earlier
You might not like this one, but it could make a world of difference. If you find yourself consistently running 15 minutes late, get up 15 minutes earlier, says Debi Silber, a life coach in Dix Hills, NY. You'll give yourself a cushion — and maybe even a chance to get ready in peace. Ditto for your kids; if it consistently takes them 30 minutes to get ready, don't think they can magically do it in 20.
Use a carrot
Whatever your kid loves — watching TV, playing on the computer — use it as a reward for when they get ready ahead of schedule, says Brooke. In other words, no screen time until he's done what he needs to.
Do as you say
Model what you want your kids to do. "Be a role model to your children by preparing your lunch the night ahead, preparing your bags and picking out your clothes, tidying up in the evening and setting the table for breakfast," says Fran Pollen, a parent coach in the Philadelphia area. That means no skipping breakfast, Mom — your kids aren't allowed to, right?
Have you ever noticed your anxiety has the effect of making your kids move in slow-mo? "The more you rush in the morning, the slower your kids will move," says Kirk Martin, a behavioral consultant in Nashville, TN and executive director of Celebrate!Calm, or organization that specializes in working with kids with learning disabilities. So if the kids are stalling or dawdling, stop what you're doing and see if a hand on the arm or squatting down to make eye contact can get them moving again. "Once we connect with a child, compliance follows," says Martin.
Let the chips fall
As they should during the rest of your day, let your child's actions dictate the consequences, even if it makes you late or saddles you with a whiny kid on the way to school. If your son doesn't put on his shoes as you ask, warn him that you'll take him to school shoe-less — and then follow through and let him feel the consequence of being embarrassed in front of his teacher (pack the shoes, of course!) "Take the time to teach your child the lesson one day to save time every day," says Braun.