Organize Your Morning Routine
For some families, mornings are the best time of day. The children are happy and refreshed after a good night's rest and ready to interact positively with the world around them. For others, it can be a time when chaos reigns, tempers flare and tears flow.
According to Barbara K. Polland, professor of child and adolescent development at California State University, Northridge, Calif., and author of No Directions on the Package: Questions and Answers for Parents With Children From Birth to Age 12 difficulties in getting children ready in the morning span both cultures and continents. She has heard parents express similar frustrations in all parts of the world.
Whether your family's experience fits one extreme or the other or perhaps lies somewhere in between, there are many ways to smooth out morning routines and get off to a great start.
- Planning Is Key
- Mr. Grumpy
- Getting Those Z's
- The Importance of Breakfast
Planning Is Key
Problems in the morning are often rooted in the fact that things should have been done the night before. "Backpacks should be at the front door and clothes should be laid out," says Polland. Check school bags the evening before. Keep copies of the school's monthly calendar to ensure you send appropriate gear for special events and makes sure that library books, permission slips and gym clothes are packed the night before.
"Planning is the key factor," says Cynthia Kennedy Reedy, a professor and expert in child development and family relations at Arcadia University in suburban Philadelphia, Pa. "Lunches should be made the evening before, with the child assisting in this process. Clothing should be discussed with two outfits as possibilities laid out for the next day."
Allowing children to choose their own clothes can be a challenge for some parents who have a keen sense of style. "No teacher, principal or other child will pass judgment if your child shows up at school in plaids and stripes that don't match," says Polland. "It doesn't matter."
Reedy stresses that autonomy is a huge issue for school-age children, and it is important to give children the opportunity to make choices. Polland agrees, pointing out that giving children a sense of autonomy increases how capable they feel in their daily lives.
Getting kids motivated in the morning can be harder than algebra. "The most challenging thing in the mornings is getting the kids to move," says Emacs. "They usually sit there half awake while I run around getting things for them."
"It's not uncommon for parents to wake kids up to moans and groans," says Polland. The goal is to create a situation where children can get themselves up so the day does not begin in a negative way. Polland suggests purchasing an alarm clock with an appealing chime or song of the child's choosing. If it's a clock radio, let the child choose the kind of music the alarm is set to play. Telling them they are big enough to get themselves up and get their own day started gives children a wonderful sense of autonomy.
"Positively managing the early morning routines can be enhanced dramatically if the adult rises before the child and prepares their day to exhibit a calming effect on the child when they awake and begin the morning process themselves," says Reedy. "If parents are rushed and unorganized themselves, it only magnifies the problem."
Getting Those Z's
If children don't get enough sleep, they will tend to be grouchy or angry according to Polland, who has seen 7-, 8- and 9-year-old children fall asleep at their desks at school. This can be embarrassing in front of their peers. If they are continually sleep deprived, their immune systems will begin to break down, making them vulnerable to illness and infection.
Reworking the evening routine may help children get to bed on time and get a good night's sleep, suggests Polland. Emacs says that finding a routine that works is challenging. "I've told them they don't need to go to sleep, just to stay in their rooms quietly," says Emacs. "Instead, they make 20 trips to the bathroom to get a drink of water or socialize with each other, or they go into each other's rooms and talk."
Polland suggests making daily routines fun. "Most people view things as, 'When we complete the routine, then we can have fun,'" says Polland. "The better way is to make the things that need doing fun."
One option is to put up a chart that outlines the bedtime routine. Upon completing an item on the chart, give the child a sticker to put beside that item. Having a specified number of stickers on the chart results in a reward for the child. This can be a non-monetary reward, like a picnic in the park with Dad or a skip around the block with Mom. Alternatively, it can be a selection from a bag of small, inexpensive wrapped toys.
Polland hastens to point out that the rewards are incentives, not bribes. She likens them to sales incentives, such as trips, which are often given to salespeople to reward success. In a similar fashion, you pay attention to and reward a child's appropriate behaviors. As she puts it, "Catch them doing something good."
"Children younger than age 8 cognitively have a difficult time completely understanding another person's perspective," says Reedy. "Therefore, screaming, 'I'm going to be late for work,' doesn't really solve too many of the issues."
The challenge lies in finding ways to get your children to do what they need to do, without getting into a power struggle. Whether it's getting ready in the morning or getting to bed on time at night, give children the autonomy to complete necessary tasks themselves, let them have fun in the process and have a great day.
The Importance of Breakfast
Getting children to eat breakfast is part of the morning challenge many parents face each day. Is it worth the struggle? Is breakfast important? According to three specialists in the area of children's nutrition, the answer is yes.
Carolyn Vaughn, a clinical nutritionist at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn., says that children who eat breakfast perform better at school, have improved school attendance, are better behaved, are more energetic and have better weight control.
Jennifer Thomas, a dietician at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas, says that a balanced breakfast provides a high-fiber carbohydrate (like fruit, oatmeal, whole grain cereal or bread), a low-fat protein source (like fat-free milk or yogurt) and a heart-healthy fat (like peanut butter, nuts or wheat germ).
Ann Condon-Meyers, a clinical dietician at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pa., says that a good breakfast should include two or three of the five food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein).
Vaughan suggests these easy and appealing breakfast ideas: whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana with a glass of milk; yogurt with granola and fruit; cheese toast and calcium-fortified orange juice; oatmeal or cold cereal in low-fat milk with banana.