Everybody’s yelling as they hurry to get it together and get out the door. In the car, it is learned that someone forgot something important, be it a briefcase — or a stuffed panda bear! The drive to school and work is agony. At least one person is crying. Everybody’s late. And then you have to say goodbye to your child – but you never really said Hello!
Most of the parents I know have this problem: Stress and drama around getting out the door in the morning. Recently a colleague asked me to rate the extent of this difficulty. I said that 95% of my clients have this problem, and for them it’s a 10 on a 1-10 scale!
Below are some tips and tools that can help you to make your morning time much easier. I’ve also shared a few stories from some of the families I’ve worked with.
1. First, change your attitude. See if you can steer away from “Hurry, it’s time to get up, hurry or we’re gonna be late,” and instead focus on working together as a family, and starting the day with a sense of togetherness. The whole family is making this morning transition – something that’s a lot harder than staying in bed and relaxing! So see if you can approach the morning with the intention to facilitate a sense of togetherness, as opposed to a “hurry and worry” mindset. Be the leader, be the coach. This “mindset” approach is less concrete than the other techniques I describe here, but it’s powerful. Your morning time can mean more than just a handful of individuals stressing about getting where they need to go. Practice your parental leadership skills and create group cohesion and a sense of togetherness as you move through the morning.
2. Of course, getting out the door is easier if you plan for this. It may sound cliché and too simple, but it really makes a difference: Get organized the night before. Work with your child to pick out the clothes she’ll wear the next day. Line the shoes up by the door. Make sure all homework is in the backpacks, and hang the backpacks by the door. Do whatever food prep you can the night before – there are always some parts of lunch or breakfast or even morning coffee that can be done ahead of time. Will you be taking your kid to sports practice or some other enrichment event after school? Make sure the soccer ball or musical instrument is either in the car or ready to go.
This kind of planning and pre-morning organization helps in the obvious ways – and it also helps kids to buy in to or align with the morning transition process. When kids plan for the transition ahead of time, this enhances the sense that, Yes, these are important steps that need to be done, and it’s good to be prepared. When they plan for the morning the night before, they’re actually investing part of themselves in the morning process, which makes them more committed to the process when the time comes to engage in it. When kids (or grownups) plan ahead, they are rehearsing the thing they’re planning for, and this makes the thing itself easier. These are relatively subtle benefits, but they’re powerful and they can make all the difference in attitude and mindset.
3. It’s also important to start the day off right. Here’s a little “physiological psychology” for you: The transition from sleep to wake is actually a really big deal! Our bodies and brains take between 30-60 minutes to wake up. It goes against our bodies’ natural rhythm to just jump out of bed and start in on tasks. So don’t expect kids – or yourself – to do it! A lot of kids really appreciate it if you start the day with a short, three-minute snuggle. It takes time – three minutes – but starting the day off right takes less time than it will if you start the day yelling. One mom I worked with gets into bed with her child and just snuggles him for a few minutes. Then she starts to interact with him in a gentle but playful way, which helps him to wake up. Then they both roll out of bed together and get dressed at the same time. This mom and her son are now starting the day with a sense of camaraderie and solidarity instead of conflict and strife.
And highly strong-willed, emotionally volatile, “spirited” kids can have an especially hard time with transitions. Easing into the morning gently and with connection makes a big difference for these kids.
4. You can also use music to help manage time. As you move through the morning, follow a music playlist that you compile together. Start the day with the snuggle song; then you can do a little stretching as you listen to the stretching song; then you get dressed with the getting-dressed song, and so on. Following a playlist like this really facilitates awareness of the passing of time and the pace that is needed to complete the various steps on time. Of course there are other ways to track time; for example, you could use a timer – but I much prefer music. It can create a gentle or fun mood in ways a timer cannot.
Planning ahead…music…snuggle time… these are simple techniques that will work for almost everyone. But sometimes more is needed.
With one family I worked with, for example, after first taking a close look at what was happening in the morning, and after I asked for everyone’s perspective on what was causing people to be late, we tweaked the definition of the problem a bit and then came up with a practical solution that worked for everyone.
From the dad’s perspective, the problem was that the daughter spent too much time fixing her hair, and if she could just relax and not be overly concerned about her appearance, everyone would be on time. But then the daughter told me that Mom or Dad always helped her with her hair – but only Mom “did it right.” And when Dad helped, the girl had to fix it, which took time – she wasn’t as quick with her hair as Mom was.
Now, Dad often helped with the hair because Mom had to leave early for work. So what we did in this case was have Mom get up 15 minutes earlier so she could be the one to help her daughter. We also set it up so that the help had to happen by a certain time, and if for some reason the daughter wasn’t ready and able to receive the help then, Mom would still leave on time for work, and the help would come from Dad.
This solution worked for everyone. Mom was OK with getting up a little earlier, and the daughter preferred to have Mom help her, so she did what she needed to do to receive that help. She then no longer needed to spend time on her hair, so she was able to leave when Dad wanted to leave.
I share this story just to give an example of how it’s sometimes important to approach a problem not with generic tips and tools but instead with a look at what’s actually happening – from the perspective of everyone, parents and kids alike. This is especially true with “spirited” kids. And as those of you who have worked with me know, it’s crucial to incorporate the kids’ ideas into the solution!
For many people, mornings are a time of stress and conflict. But with a little planning and problem-solving, mornings can be much easier! And they can also be a time of connection, where you nurture your relationship with your child, and strengthen your role as parent-leader as well!
What have you done to solve your “getting-out-the-door” problems? We’d love to hear your ideas and successes! Go to our Facebook page and post your story!