A new school year brings the opportunity to establish peaceful, nurturing mornings. This post gives five strategies to help hurried families achieve a happier morning together so you can wave goodbye to your kids for the school day with greater peace in your heart.
Nick, my son in seventh grade, bought a big old fashioned metal alarm clock which rings very loudly. He got it to teasingly annoy his younger brother because their rooms are nearby, but naturally we all pay for his sense of humor. The alarm clock was bad enough when it worked, but within days it started going off at the wrong time. If he set it for 6:30, it would go off at 5:45. Not good. Sometimes as parents we begin our day feeling irritated because our kids won’t get up, they won’t get ready, things go wrong, and soon someone, or everyone, is upset. Like the too early, too loud alarm clock, school mornings can easily get off to a bad start.
Yesterday morning I woke up to my younger son Andrew’s alarm clock. It’s a gentle beep. He turned it off, and in seconds I heard the encouraging sounds of him moving about and getting into the shower. I felt peaceful, knowing that both boys would soon be downstairs in the kitchen, fully dressed and that all I’d have to do was get myself ready, feed them something, and then have a pleasant drive to their schools and my morning of volunteering.
My boys were trained to get up on time, make their own beds, and get themselves ready by unsympathetic and overworked orphanage “nannas”. We purposefully capitalized on that and from the beginning of their life with us lovingly reinforced their good routines. My biological kids didn’t come ready trained. Like many other families, school mornings were often stressful and rushed. I’d have to wake them up repeatedly. First with gentle kisses, then with firmness, finally with a not so pretty voice and threats which would get them moving, but made us all feel bad.
Many mornings we experienced an endless cycle of nagging, stubbornness, half eaten breakfasts and rushing off for a stress filled drive with oh so many red lights before dropping my child off just before that dreaded stop sign appeared in front of the school which read: “Your child is now late for school. You must sign them in at the office”.
School mornings do not have to be like that. We parents can have happy mornings with our kids; it just takes a little more planning, discipline, and the ability to preserve our own calmness. Here are some suggestions:
1. Be Prepared the Night Before
We begin the bedtime routine earlier than we think we need to because it always takes longer than we think it will. Part of that routine is to get everything for school packed up and placed near the door. One of my kids picks out his clothes and has them hanging up on a hanger, ready to put on. I double check to be sure everything they need from me is done so they are less likely to disturb me or bring up an issue in the morning while I’m busy.
2. Go to Bed Earlier
Children need a lot of sleep. Some school aged children benefit from as much as ten hours a night! I know a widow who had five children. All five were in bed at 7:00. 7:00! It gave her quiet time in the evening and maybe the kids were so sick of being in bed that they were eager to get up in the morning. I don’t put my kids to bed at seven, but we have an established bed time and mornings are much easier if the kids aren’t as tired.
3. Get Up Earlier
Try to have your kids ready to walk out the door 10 minutes before you need to leave. This allows for those last minute “I forgots” and other delays.
4. Establish a Morning Routine
Give your kids a list: make beds, wash faces, get dressed, put night clothes away or in the laundry, brush hair, walk the dog. After breakfast they can brush teeth and put on shoes. Before my kids leave the house, they have a sweet habit of hugging and wishing each person a good day. It’s adorable and they do it even if we’re late, which I don’t think is so adorable at the time, but is still precious.
Years ago, I used a “get ready in the morning” checklist for my oldest son (he’s thirty now) and by following it, he could earn points to increase his allowance. It worked for a while, but then it stopped motivating him. I tried all kinds of good strategies: a kitchen timer to have mini-goals for individual tasks such as “see if you can get ready in just ten minutes today!”, competitions like “let’s see if you can get dressed before I do”, punishments such as “you can’t watch Saved by the Bell this afternoon because you didn’t get up when I asked you to”, nice hot breakfasts with pancakes that looked like happy faces, cold water- oh don’t ask. Most things worked for a while, but nothing worked for long. Looking back, I think I failed to keep him on task by not staying organized and anchored myself. By getting upset, I put on too much of a good show and made him less likely to want do what I asked him to do.
5. Be Anchored in the Lord
Any good plan falls apart the minute I get frazzled in the morning. Suddenly everyone is dragging their feet, forgetting things, or putting their shirts on inside out (again?). The dog makes a mess, the cat is noisily demanding wet food, the pancakes are burning, and suddenly the day is off to a tough start. The feisty New Jersey girl inside me comes out blazing, increasing the stress so I need to just pause, pray and get anchored:
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up. Psalms 5:3 NKJ
If I stop, take a moment to say a quick prayer and intentionally calm myself, my thoughts clear. My inner voice becomes directed to God, and I can stop nagging my kids. My attention is back on the eternal, the timeless, and the beautiful, not bogged down by the details. I’m able to be more patient and the kids seem to move faster. If I could just stay that way!
Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility .Elder Thaddeus
I might still be running late, someone might forget their homework, and once again I’ve driven off with my travel mug of coffee still on the roof of the car, but maybe this time I can see humor in it. Really, none of that is a big issue; all that really matters is how we deal with it.
Mornings can be a sweet time, but for many of us it takes planning, good routines and choosing to stay calm. You can find a way that works for your family.
I’d love to hear your feedback and strategies for getting kids ready on time in the morning without getting stressed! Leave your ideas in the comment section.