I love the mornings! I clap my hands every morning and say, ‘This is gonna be a great day!’
– Dicky Fox, Jerry Maguire, 1996
Do you consider yourself a morning person? Are you someone who loves to get up bright and early and has energy and vocal cords that work by the break of daylight? I am not. The only decibel level that I would choose in the household before eight a.m. is silence with the exception of the putt, putt, beep of my coffee maker. Of course silence is just not possible in a family life with kids.
No matter whether you see yourself as a morning person or not, mornings in households with children can be chaotic. “Where are my gray pants?” asks your oldest child. “They’re in the laundry.” you respond. “Mom (add whiney tone), I can’t go to school without those pants!” There seem to be all kinds of issues that become critical in preparation for the day including producing breakfast, packing lunch, putting on appropriate clothing for the weather, and getting out of the door on time. However, there are ways to create a great start with your family each day. Borrowing from successful schools, you too can create a predictable routine in the morning that assures fun, connection and readiness for learning through a process called Morning Meeting[i] (developed by an excellent evidence-based social and emotional learning school program, Responsive Classroom). Similarly at home, it’s the routine and ritual of morning time and brief but important connections made that can pave the way for children and adults to have clear expectations about the day and carry out the responsibilities of the morning smoothly without nagging and hassle.
If you feel stressed early in the day or the household feels chaotic, here are some ideas for creating a truly good morning. First, take a moment to think about what makes that time feel out of control. Is it about time pressure? Are there arguments that occur time and again? If so, what are they? Think about those specific morning stressors as you read through the following ideas and think about how they might be addressed. In addition to preparation, the ideas to be implemented in the morning take mere minutes but can make the difference in creating a regular opportunity for a truly good morning.
If you want to improve your morning routine, talking about it when it’s NOT morning and you are at home and not under any time pressure is essential. Decide on a morning routine in a conversation with family members. Who gets into the bathroom when? What is the progression of events? With your children doing the writing or contributing to a drawing, make a poster or a simple sign for the refrigerator of your morning routine. Break it into simple, shortly stated steps. Number the steps and use as few words as possible though talk about what each step means for each member. This should provide you the opportunity for important leading conversations like, “When it’s time to get on socks and shoes, what could help you in doing that more quickly and without upset?” “Would it help if we picked out your socks the night before and laid them with your shoes?”
This is a good time for you to evaluate your own role in the morning. What stresses you? What can you do about it? Do you need more time in the morning? Can you get up any earlier? Can you enlist your partner to help with a portion of morning preparations regularly or periodically? Do you compete for the bathroom? Do you need to talk about and adjust the adult routines to create less stress in the morning? Small adjustments can mean the difference in starting off the day better.
It is interesting how it is so easy to take for granted those people that mean the most to you since you see them every day. Greeting each member of the family every morning may seem basic and even ridiculous but since it can mean the difference between feeling connected or disconnected, starting off your day well or distressed, it’s worth mentioning. A simple “Good Morning.” with a hug or kiss or touch can be all you need to model for children how they should greet a person. Greeting others is not something that children know or learn automatically. In fact, have you encountered children who are unable to look you in the eye and greet you? There are children in middle and high school who still are unable to greet adults when they are addressed with a simple “Hello.” Model this practice each morning by greeting your children and your partner. It may take a little effort, but once you are in the habit, you won’t need to think about it and your family will benefit from that quick reminder each morning that all members are seen, recognized and appreciated.
Taking a moment over the breakfast table or on the car ride to school to share hopes and expectations for the day can help calm nerves and help children become ready for the school day and learning. So many things occur while children are at school and commonly, children only relay a small fraction of what occurs. So there could be worries of which you are unaware about other children, teachers or subjects that are on their minds prior to the start of the school day. Model first by sharing your own hope for the day. “I hope we see some sunshine and can get outside at least a little while to play today and take a walk after school.” “What’s your hope for today?” And take this opportunity to let your child know what’s planned. Are there any special events? Do you know what they are going to be learning about? What’s special about today? Setting expectations can help provide a smoother transition into the learning environment at school.
After you’ve shared hopes and expectations for the day, it’s a perfect time to remind a child about a positive behavior you want to reinforce. Maybe they have been excluding other children at school and you’ve had discussions about how to be a good friend. This is a great time to remind them of those positive behaviors that you hope they’ll practice at school. This does not include scolding or nagging and in fact, will be less effective and possibly backfire if you communicate in that kind of tone. A reminder can be kept positive by showing through your words and tone that you are confident that they can perform the expected behaviors with competence. “I know you will do all you can today to include the new student in your games on the playground.” “You’ve really been making an effort to show you are a leader by welcoming new kids in your class.”
And finally, remind your child of when you’ll see them next. Remember the days in preschool when your child clung to you with strength and passion and tears and didn’t want you to leave. Kids all the way through the teenage years experience those healthy feelings of attachment to their parents though they learn not to show it in those ways. Let your child know when and how you’ll see them next and they’ll begin their day with the confidence of knowing that home and a trusted parent awaits at the end of their school day. And of course, no child can hear the sacred words, “I love you and I’m proud of you.” enough so use this daily parting as yet another excuse to say it. These small efforts are worth it to create a truly good morning.
[i] Kriete, R., & Bechtel, L. (2002). The morning meeting book. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.