“Where are your gloves? Uuuuhhhrrrr!” I growled this morning. Hats, gloves, boots, shoes and socks have been strewn everywhere through our tiny hallway and into our kitchen from our side door — so much so that I can’t walk without stepping on some article of clothing. I thought we were doing okay in the mornings. That first week back from holiday break is typically tough on the sleep routine — getting up and out of bed on time. But we’ve got that mastered now so we should be right back into our smooth mornings, right? Then enters the snow factor and sub-zero temperatures and we are not in as great of shape for mornings as I might have thought. And I’m not alone. Each time I’ve talked with parents in the past few weeks, the issue of the morning routine has come up. Here are some questions you might consider to help you determine whether it’s time to revisit your morning routine.
Do you feel aggravated most mornings of the week?
Do you start your day feeling anxious and stressed?
Do you feel you need to nag in order to get your kids moving?
Do you raise your voice or yell a couple of times a week or more in the morning?
Are you able to get your kids to school on time each morning or are you late sometimes?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’re human. But making adjustments in the winter just makes sense. Harsh weather adds so much to our typical routine that if we don’t accommodate those additions, we will end up consistently stressed and our kids will too. And the resulting negative mood can trickle down into our work and school days. But there’s good news from research done on self-control. Apparently, we have the greatest capacity for self-control in the morning when we are fresh and rested. As the day wears on, our self-control can experience fatigue like a muscle. 1 The implication is that if we have set ourselves and our kids up for success in the morning, then we can draw upon our refreshed self-control to proceed calmly and with patience while our child struggles to get on his boots. Why not plan for success and make some small adjustments with your kids to help each member contribute to making the morning go smoothly?
To engage your sense of self-control while you are still drinking your first cup of coffee, try out the Self-Control Morning Stretch. When it dawns on you that you are nagging or yelling, try this out. For example, “E get your shoes. E, seriously, we are going to be late. Come ooooon! Get your shoes on!” I’m repeating myself so it may occur to me after these statements that I am nagging, maybe moving into yelling. Here’s how I employ the stretch.
The Morning Self-Control Stretch
When the realization hits you (that you are nagging or yelling or engaging in any coercion that you’ll regret later), stop! Freeze. Breathe in deeply. Then as you breathe out, sink down to your child’s level. Crouch down eye to eye. Don’t talk until you can speak in a normal to soft tone even if you have to stare at your child for a minute. Ask, “How can I help you get this task completed?” Responses could range from “I don’t need help.” to “I can’t get this knot out.” to “Would you do it for me.” If help is asked for, do it with no to few words. Then, express confidence in his ability to finish for himself or direct him to his next task in as few words as possible and in a calm tone. For example, “Shoes are tied. I know you can do this next step of getting on your coat.” Now move away with trust that he will do his job. We all need reminders after developing patterns of nagging or yelling but how do we help ourselves in those circumstances? Treat this like an exercise each morning. It may not produce results on the first try but your child will get the hang of it and respond accordingly after you do it a few times.
My video (shown below) outlines a way that the whole family can plan for a successful morning routine. But I have additional ideas for simple, small ways to adjust to the winter weather and tweak a routine that may have been successful when the school year began.
Make a Checklist Together. Use a small white board so that you can easily erase marks and start over. Pick one evening well before bedtime (to eliminate time pressure) to write out a morning checklist with your kids. You may want to focus on “things we need to get” and/or “things we need to do” to get out of the door on time. It seems human nature that checking items off a list offers satisfaction. And research now supports that when there is added complexity in any situation, using a checklist can offer a simple organizer to ensure all issues are addressed. 2 Give your kids the opportunity to check off their list. “Today’s special class is library. What do you need to put into your backpack?” you might prompt. “Books, check!” replies your highly responsible child! The checklist can help your child get involved in making sure everything is ready for the day.
Organize. Take time after school to organize your winter wear and school project materials. It seems at the same time the wet, snowy outdoor clothing is piling, there is an influx of historical dioramas and science poster boards. Where are the repositories for completed academic work that were brought home? Where do you keep academic materials that have to travel back and forth to school? Be certain there is an assigned container, bin or binder that your child can regularly use. And then, how do you deal with all of the extra winter wear? Where do wet scarves, gloves and hats go? Those are the buggers that tend to run and hide at the last minute before everyone needs to leave. Create a solution together. The more you can involve your child in that solution (perhaps she draws a sign for a bin? perhaps the bin is her favorite color?), the more ownership she will take over keeping track of those articles.
Evaluate Time and Adjust. It’s a simple fact that if you have added winter clothing and academic projects to your morning routine, you should be allotting more time than when the weather was pleasant. Never plan for the exact amount of time it takes for your routine to go smoothly. How often does that work out? Instead plan extra time for problems so that when they occur (Tommy has a meltdown about wearing new pants.), you won’t panic because you don’t have the time for a problem. Delays still may occur on occasion. But with a little padding, you will possess that additional calm to get through most mornings.
Do a Dry Run. Instead of playing your favorite board game, host a game of “Morning Routine.” Once may be enough to allow you and your kids to practice and provide a significant memory from which to draw. Be certain to make it enjoyable. With a doughnut in hand (this is my personal version of making it enjoyable), go through each of the steps of the morning with your checklist. Set a timer to see how quickly you can get through each step. Allow your kids to tell you what’s next. When you come upon typical morning struggles, stop to brainstorm. “How can I help you with this? What could make this easier so we can beat our time?”
Prepare the Night Before. Instead of trying to get ready for the next day on your own after the kids have gone to bed and you’re exhausted, involve your kids in getting ready. Perhaps after dinner, set aside time. Use your checklist to call out items that need to be in backpacks. Lay out clothing. If there’s any new clothing, this would be the time to try it on so there are no morning surprises.
Have Back Ups. For school supplies, medications and winter wear including snow and rain gear, try and have inexpensive back-ups easily on hand. Gloves get lost. And the realization typically occurs when your foot is halfway out of the door. Make it easier on all involved and have a second pair.
Particularly if you have kindergarten-age children or younger, going over the full morning routine will set you up for later success. You will have involved your children and taught and reinforced those behaviors you want to see each morning at a time when they are still figuring out the rules of school. So do watch the following five minute video for that helpful information.
Winter mornings don’t have to begin with stress. With some teamwork and a little planning, they can go smoothly once more. And you can stop nagging and yelling and feeling guilty. It’s worth a little extra effort to not start your day on a negative note. I treasure the mornings when my son gets out of the car at school and I feel like we’ve both had a positive start. And that is my wish for you! That most of your mornings prepare each family member to start the day feeling calm and ready.
Hagger, M.S., Wood, C., Stiff, C. & Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. ( 2010). Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis. National Institute of Education, Singapore.
In Press, Psychological Bulletin.
Gawande, A. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto; How to Get Things Right. NY: Picador.