Create a Better Morning Routine for School

Creating a better morning routine for school doesn’t have to mean setting the alarm earlier. Experts say there are many things parents can do to create a more relaxed — and productive — morning for adults and children.

“Mornings can be difficult because we make them difficult,” Stacy Haynes, a counselor and author of ” Powerful Peaceful Parenting: Guiding Children, Changing Lives,” wrote in an email.

“As a therapist and mother of two teenagers, mornings have always had a special place in my heart,” she says. “My morning mantra: Keep it simple and get up on time. We make mornings harder as parents as we are often behind schedule, trying to plan too many activities … and we are often giving too many directions.”

As millions of families struggle to get into the morning routine, many after months of at-home school followed by the summer slowdown, experts suggest that planning, communication and setting reasonable expectations can bring about more efficient mornings.

The Night Before is Critical

“A good evening routine can make a morning routine more seamless and stress-free,” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a certified parenting instructor and author of the book ” The Good News About Bad Behavior.”

Clothes can be laid out. Clean face masks and water bottles can be located. A backpack station can be set up near the door, where children can assemble everything they need to take to school the night before. Tablets, laptops and cell phones can be charged right in the backpack. “It’s easier to unplug a cord that’s sticking out of the backpack than to remember your iPad,” she says.

[Read: Back-to-School Safety Tips.]

One more thing that can be done the night before: Check the weather and the next day’s schedule. This avoids an unexpected need to change an outfit, pack different clothes or find missing rain boots in the morning when time is tight. Checking the school and activities schedules ensures musical instruments, sports equipment, permission forms and other needed items don’t get left behind.

The All-Important Checklist

Children should be invited to think through all the pieces of a morning routine, talk about each step and estimate how much time it will take. Parents can then create a visual or written checklist for the morning with all the steps.

For children who are not reading yet, the list can include pictures of each step: clothes on, brushed teeth, breakfast, shoes and backpack. If you make the checklist together, children will be more likely to follow it. The checklist should be posted somewhere parents can easily point to if someone is missing a step.

“A smile and a finger on the missing step will get you a better response from children than a verbal reminder or nagging,” Reynolds Lewis says.

Haynes says that fewer verbal instructions in the morning is often better, and that visuals and checklists can help.

“No one wants to hear nagging first thing in the morning,” she says. “Only do what is necessary to get to work or to school — nothing else. This is not the time to teach personal responsibilities, like taking care of the dog. Do that after school, when everyone has more time and is less focused on getting out the door.”

Ali Kaufman, an educational consultant and founder of Space of Mind in Florida, says that parents should avoid raising difficult topics. “There is a better time than the morning to ask the tough questions,” she wrote in an email.

Kaufman also suggests that parents and children can create a morning playlist to start the day right.

“Pay attention to the tempo and mood of the music, as well as the length of the songs,” she says. “Each song represents a part of the morning routine, and when the song changes, it’s time to move to the next activity. This allows kids to progress through their routine at their best pace, without parents having to yell.”

Setting Expectations

Experts also suggest that families have an open discussion, ahead of time, about expectations for the morning.

“Mornings are so crucial to starting the day off right, but often the morning routine is set for a child and not by them or with them,” Kaufman says. “This can create a power struggle between family members, with the clock and also within ourselves.”

[Read: Affirmations for Kids: How Parents Can Support Their Child’s Learning.]

Families can and should talk through what to do if a family member is late, so children know what to expect. They should discuss who is responsible for packing and remembering lunches, sports gear and musical instruments, and what will happen if they forget.

“You may need to follow through on these consequences and the kids may be uncomfortable,” Reynolds Lewis says. “That’s all part of the learning process.”

Getting Yourself Ready

Reynolds Lewis says a critical component of a calm morning routine is the caregiver’s own attitude and energy level.

A parent is most likely to succeed with adequate sleep, so parents should set a bedtime for themselves that allows them to wake up ready to start the day. If quiet time is necessary before everyone wakes up, work that into the schedule.

“Instead of aiming for a stress-free morning, try to reduce the morning stress,” Reynolds Lewis says. “Some days will be better and some days will be harder. The key is that your trend is in a positive direction, toward more independence and cooperation from your kids.”

One overlooked yet important step is a hug or affirmation that the day will be great, which sends a message that the morning routine is just an onramp.

“When you run into bumps, keep your cool so that your kids won’t spin out of control,” Reynolds Lewis says. “Emotions are contagious. If you handle snags with ease, your children will take your lead. If you melt down over a sleepy child or breakfast refusal, their emotions will go haywire, too.”

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Create a Better Morning Routine for School originally appeared on usnews.com

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