The Start of the Year Offers the Ideal Chance to Create Smoother Bedtime and Morning Routines at Any Age…
E, now ten-years-old, has a full two and a half week break over the holidays. And yes, we’ll do lots of visiting with friends and family. Sure, we are planning multiple entertaining outings. But there’s also an opportunity we’ll take advantage of while we have the luxury of time to prepare for the year ahead.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the book Better Than Before, suggests that any major changes in life can be supported and successfully sustained by initiating them at a turning point or natural time of transition. 1 Because we feel we are in a cycle of change anyway, adding another change to it feels more in alignment with our lives.
As we tried to get E ready for a playdate this morning, we reflected on how it was chaotic, awkward, and driven by us, the parents despite the fact that we’ve worked hard to instill a sense of responsibility in our child. We know he’s well-rehearsed in all of the tasks he needs to accomplish to get out of the door. Yet, we found ourselves nagging. And we know it’s not necessary. Time to revisit our routines! And the new year presents a perfect opportunity to do so.
The holiday freedom can throw us off of our game as we go to bed later and get up later. Then, that first week back from holiday break can typically be a tough one — getting up and out of bed on time further complicated by the snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures. We begin the new year with a host of new hopes, desires and plans. But getting back into our routines may create unnecessary aggravation, certainly not setting us up to achieve those hopes, if we are not proactive about them.
Making adjustments to our winter routines just makes sense. Harsh weather adds so much to our typical mornings 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. 2 The implication is that if we have set ourselves and our kids up for success by getting to bed on time in the evening and getting up on time 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?
Make a Plan Together. You can use a poster board that you’ll post nearby to refer to during your routines. Or you can use a small white board so that you can easily erase marks and start over. Pick a time to discuss and work on your plan when you have no time pressures. Involve your child in the creation. For younger children, (toddler through first grade) create a simple, illustrated plan and for older children (school age and up), create a checklist. You may want to focus on “things we need to do” to get out of the door on time.
For younger children… Creating a plan together can be simple and powerful. You might ask, “what do we do first when we begin our bedtime routine?” Write down in as simple terms as possible and if your child can write it herself, that’s preferred. Have her illustrate the concepts. The more she can contribute, the more ownership she will have over the plan.
For older children… 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. 3 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.
Plans offer practice in goal setting and problem-solving as they think through possible solutions to typical challenges that occur. And in the implementation of the plan, children are able to exercise their self-management and responsible decision-making skills as they set about following through on their plans.
Organize. Take time during your break or 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. And what about at bedtime? Would it help to select and lay out clothing for the next day during your bedtime routine? 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.
Move your muscles together. During the hibernation months, children are often seated in a classroom in school all day and return home to more schoolwork. Recess may be indoors and involve board games instead of the typical outdoor running around that occurs during nicer weather. Movement may be significantly limited particularly compared to the warmer months. That movement, though, helps children fall asleep faster at night and get their required rest. So consider finding an opportunity to move after dinner each night. Can you do a chase game safely in your basement? Can you try out family yoga together? How about a dance party? It could be as simple as turning on some upbeat music. Create chances to move so that you do not have to do all of your wiggle expelling at the moment it’s time to go to sleep.
Do a Dry Run. Instead of playing your favorite board game, host a game of “Morning” or “Bedtime 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. Or if bedtime is particularly challenging, do this with bedtime. You could have your child teach their favorite bear their routine in the process. 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 or bedtime 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. In the evening, 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 and bedtime routines 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.
For older children, they know the gig well enough to resist it! And if we’ve already gotten into a pattern of nagging, children expect and rely on that nagging to get moving. They will tend to wait until the tenth nag or the volume is raised before really moving at a pace that will get them out of the door. That’s the routine they’ve fallen into. So creating a plan or checklist together involves them in problem-solving. They certainly don’t enjoy being nagged. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to figure out how evenings and mornings can move successfully with each family member taking responsibility for his or her roles and tasks.
Children will be more successful in school and have a greater sense of well-being on a daily basis if they have a consistent bedtime routine that assures they get the required sleep for their age at night. For ages and sleep requirements, check out this chart from the National Sleep Foundation. Also, 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 for this new year! That you are able to get your children to bed on time so that you have some time of your own and that most of your mornings prepare each family member to start the day feeling calm and ready.
For more on these topics, check out:
A Smooth Morning Routine (video short)
1.Rubin, Gretchen. (2015). Better Than Before; What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less and Generally Build a Happier Life. NY: Broadway Books.
2. 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.
3. Gawande, A. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto; How to Get Things Right. NY: Picador.