I love summer mornings. Breakfast is simple and never served before 7:30 a.m. My children linger in the kitchen; talking, playing Uno, coloring, building with Legos, and molding Play-Doh. Two of my children eat breakfast in their pajamas every day in the summer. Pajamas are replaced with swimsuits sometime mid-morning. We push bedtime later to accommodate swim team practice, tennis matches and visits from family and friends.
August is here, and a new school year involves a huge transition for most families. No more leisurely breakfasts in pajamas on weekdays. Hello to early mornings and a flurry of tasks to complete before 8 a.m. If your child is starting school for the first time, here is a glimpse of your morning responsibilities:
You need to wake your children by 7 a.m., fix breakfast, prepare snacks and lunches, and make sure your children dress appropriately and brush their teeth. In addition, you need to make sure lunches, snacks, water bottles, hats, homework and permission slips are in the appropriate backpacks. Don’t forget to slather some sunscreen on those wiggly little bodies and confirm shoelaces are tied before you shuffle everyone out the door in time for the first school bell. Whew.
No wonder so many parents feel overwhelmed with the transition back to early mornings when school begins. Most parents feel stressed, frustrated and disorganized on school-day mornings. Any family with school-age children knows it can be a circus to get everyone up and ready. Whether your child is starting preschool or their senior year of high school, the transition from summer mornings to school-day mornings can be rough on parents and children.
Rest assured, the transition back to early mornings does not have to be stressful and chaotic. As a mother of four school-aged children, I discovered many simple and effective ways to make the shift back to early mornings easier for our family. With a little advance preparation and organization, you can reduce pandemonium in the morning and help create a routine that supports you and your children.
Here are 9 ways you can minimize the early morning frenzy for your family
1. If your child’s bedtime slipped to a later time during the summer, make it a priority to establish an earlier bedtime
If possible, begin the transition at least a week before school starts. Putting your child to bed fifteen to thirty minutes earlier each night (or every other night) until you reach his desired bedtime is an easy way to make a gradual transition.
For example, if your child has been going to bed at 9 p.m., try 8:45 for a night or two, then 8:30, then 8:15 until you reach the desired bedtime. Even if your child has already started school, you can still begin the transition to an earlier bedtime.
Keep in mind that a late bedtime can make it difficult for your child to wake up early for school. If you are constantly waking your child from a deep sleep in the morning, he is probably going to bed too late. An earlier bedtime can benefit the whole family since it gives the parent(s) some time at night to relax and/or prepare for the next morning.
Be consistent with your child’s bedtime routine. This means putting your child to bed around the same time every night. This will help you and your child create a bedtime routine that will continue throughout the school year.
2. Help your child pick out her clothing the night before a school day instead of in the morning
Depending upon the age of your child, encourage her to pick out her own clothing. You can always check to make sure she puts out everything she needs. Planning outfits the night before will give you a few extra minutes in the morning instead of rushing to find your child’s favorite shirt.
3. Talk with your child about the new school year several days before school begins
Many children have difficulty falling asleep during the first week of school. Whether your child is nervous, scared, uncertain or excited, it is helpful to address any concerns before school begins rather than wait until the night before. Talking about the new school year may help your child feel confident and calm on those first few early mornings during the first week.
4. For older children, you can make your life easier by making a simple checklist on a whiteboard or pad of paper
This is an easy and effective way to remind children in the morning, or in the evening, of what they need to bring to school (i.e., water bottle, lunch bag, hat, homework, musical instrument.) Encouraging your child to follow a list encourages independence and improves their ability to follow directions. Even if you need to remind them to check the list the first week, they will develop a habit of checking for what they need for school.
5. Get up before everyone else in your family
Many of you are grimacing as you read this, but trust me, it will benefit you and your family. Even if you wake just ten or fifteen minutes before your children, it will give you sacred time by yourself to breathe and get organized. Maybe it gives you enough time to get coffee, check emails and start breakfast.
If you work outside your home, waking before your children allows you time to shower and dress without interruption. Trying to get your children ready for school while getting yourself ready for work can be challenging, so give yourself some extra time in the morning.
6. Pack lunches and snacks the evening before
I do this almost every day. Trying to pack lunches, snacks and fill water bottles for all my children each morning can be time-consuming and overwhelming. If your children are older, encourage them to help you make lunches and snacks. Most children like to pick out their food and this is a great way to help them understand the time and planning that goes into meal preparation.
7. Plan breakfast the evening before
Even if you intend to give them bowls of cereal and fruit in the morning, make sure you have the food you need (especially the milk!) I would rather run to the store in the evening for a few items than search for a backup breakfast option at 7:15 a.m. Consider making things ahead of time that are easy to reheat or serve in the morning such as oatmeal, smoothies, hard-boiled eggs or even scrambled eggs.
8. Prep backpacks the evening before.
Remind your children to put their homework (and everything else they need) in their backpacks the night before it is due so you are not frantically searching for homework papers at 7:30 a.m. It’s better to be prepared than to find out your kid left their assignment on the kitchen table as you’re pulling up to the school!
9. Limit electronics and television before bedtime
I know this is difficult for many families since we often need some downtime in the evening. However, many children have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep after exposure to television and other electronic devices before bedtime.
Quality sleep can have a significant impact on your child’s mood in the morning and ability to wake up on time. Your child will respond better to an early morning routine if he is well-rested. I strongly encourage you to consider replacing electronics time with reading time. Read to your children and encourage them to read at night. Even just five to ten minutes a night can have a positive effect on your family’s morning routine and your child’s bedtime routine.
Most elementary school-aged children are expected to read every day anyway, so why not make it part of their evening routine? Reading also allows your child to wind down and have some quiet time before bedtime. Whether you read to your child, or your child reads on his own, it is an excellent way to ease the transition to early mornings by giving your child a calm activity in the evening before going to sleep.
As a mom of four, I welcome ways to make my life (and especially my mornings) easier. A little preparation and routine can drastically change the entire course of your morning. I encourage you to try some of the ideas mentioned above as you transition back to early school-day mornings. I hope you will find early mornings to be easier this school year and for years to come.
Planning and preparation are key to a smooth transition back to early school-day mornings. As boring as it may sound, I have done considerable research on routine and organization and how they affect children and parents. I love helping parents create the perfect routine for their family! Several chapters in my book, “Navigating the Newborn Months and Beyond,” focus on helping parents develop a schedule for their baby. However, children of all ages thrive on routine. By establishing morning and bedtime routines, you encourage your child to be responsible and independent, which will benefit you and your children throughout their childhood, even in their teenage years.