Weekday mornings are primed for failure, just by their very nature: There are countless to-dos but not a lot of time to do them. Add little people to the mix, and it’s no wonder the experience can leave you weary. We can’t promise there won’t be tantrums (from kids or parents), but we can offer strategies to get past some of the common morning dilemmas.
1. There’s never enough time
If every morning feels like a mad rush because your kid’s a late riser, don’t revamp your routine until you consider whether he’s going to bed early enough. “If they’re falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking at eight, they’re not waking up late—they’re just getting their full sleep,” says Julie Romanowski, a parenting coach in Vancouver. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says one- and two-year-olds need 11 to 14 hours of sleep, while three– to five-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours; those figures include daytime naps. Kids ages six to 12 need nine to 12 hours each night.)
If there’s not enough sleep happening in your household, then you should obviously work on getting the kids to bed earlier. But during the transition—or if you’ve just got one of those kids who needs more than the average amount of sleep—the key to a smooth morning is to have everything ready the night before or, at least, before they get up. That’s the only thing that has worked for Luisa Magalhaes, a mom in Peterborough, Ont., who wakes her five- and three-year-old up at 7:30 to be out the door by 8 a.m. “We make lunches, pick clothes and pack bags the night before,” she says. “We also have a set of toothbrushes and hair clips in the downstairs bathroom, to save us a trip back up the stairs.”
Also, even if it’s the last thing you have time for, try to take just a minute to connect with your kids, says Sarah Rosensweet, a Toronto parenting coach. “Before you rush into, ‘Come on! Get up! We don’t have much time!’ give them a hug and a snuggle,” she says. This quick moment of connection can go a long way toward getting co-operation during the morning dash.
What if you’re always running late, and it has nothing to do with wake-up times? You may need to get real about how long it takes for kids to complete tasks. Sure, your kid should only need two minutes to put on his shoes, but if it’s taking 10 minutes every morning, maybe account for that instead of fighting it.
2. My kid refuses to eat breakfast
We all want to see our kids off on a full stomach—after all, they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what if your kid just won’t eat?
There are two possible issues at play here, says Romanowski: the kid who isn’t hungry right away and the one who just doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing to sit down at the table.
To get through either scenario, make breakfast a part of the morning routine, whether your kid typically eats or not. “Just ignoring it or skipping it can spur them into a more negative habit,” she says. But that doesn’t mean you should force your kid to eat. Instead, take some time to explain why you want her to have a nutritious breakfast, set expectations for the morning routine and then create a list of favourite foods together. In the morning, ask her what she’s hungry for from the list.
If you consistently offer breakfast but your kid simply won’t eat much—or any—of it, try not to worry, says Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian in Toronto. Give her a nutritious snack to have in the car or at morning recess. Kanchan Jindal, a mom of two in Burlington, Ont., makes smoothies for her breakfast-averse kids to drink on the way to daycare.
3. My kids wake up way too early
When your kids are up at the crack of dawn, the problem—besides the fact that, well, they’re up at the crack of dawn—is there’s almost too much time to fill before you need to leave for school or daycare. How do you motivate them to get ready when there’s no real rush? And if they’ve gone off to play, how do you drag them away without having to ask (OK, yell) over and over again? The key here, says Romanowski, is to minimize the number of times your kid has to switch between the boring, get-ready-for-the-day tasks and whatever fun activity she would rather be doing. “As adults, we see it as, ‘Just go brush your teeth and come back,’ but for a kid, transitioning between something fun and something not as fun will require a lot of time and guidance from parents,” says Romanowski. And who’s got the patience for that in the morning?
She suggests making sure your kids are completely ready—teeth brushed, clothes on, bag packed—before letting them play. This way, you’re not nagging at them to put down their toys to eat breakfast and you don’t risk running out of time. If you’d prefer to let your kiddos chillax in their PJs until it’s time to get ready, then try using a timer—or any audiovisual cue you like—to signal when playtime has to stop and the routine must begin.
If you’re having trouble keeping your kid occupied while you’re getting ready, and you would prefer to avoid screen time, Rosensweet suggests creating a morning activity box, filled with age-appropriate toys and activities that only come out when mom and dad are getting ready. Be sure to switch out the toys or add a surprise every once in a while to keep up the interest.
4. My kid is a morning grump
If your kid is consistently in a bad mood when he wakes up, he may not be getting enough sleep. But some kids are grouchy in the a.m. regardless of how many hours they clocked the previous night.
Being barked at by your kid at the start of each day is super frustrating, but experts say the best thing you can do is to acknowledge the feelings and show compassion. “We want to put our defences up and say, ‘Why are you being so difficult!?’ but that just closes off communication,” says Romanowski. The fact is, most kids don’t want to be in a bad mood, she says.
If this is a new behaviour, look for reasons for it, like lack of sleep, not eating enough or an illness whose more obvious symptoms haven’t shown up yet. Also consider what’s going on in your kid’s life; he might be having a hard time with something at school or daycare, or struggling with the addition of a new sibling or other change in the family. A little empathy won’t necessarily solve the problem, but it might get you out the door just a little faster.
5. My kid can’t seem to stay focused on getting ready
How many times do you have to ask your kid to put his shoes on in the morning? A lack of motivation after waking up is a common complaint from parents. And it’s no surprise. You’re asking a kid to leave the cozy comforts of home and go somewhere that might feel less safe or less fun, and their favourite person in the world—you!—won’t be there with them.
First things first: Validate their feelings, says Romanowski. For example, if they’re playing with a toy, say, “I know you’re having fun playing with this. It’s hard to leave home and Mommy and Daddy, isn’t it?”
To help your kid focus on the tasks at hand, post a list of what needs to be done, like eating breakfast, getting dressed and brushing teeth. For younger kids, draw pictures or cut out magazine images to create a visual list. Then, instead of nagging, keep going back to it and asking, “Where are you on your list?”
Just don’t expect your kid to be able to run off and get it done on his own. Even kids who are fully capable of putting their pants on might need you nearby sometimes. “Intellectually, you know they can do it, but emotionally, it’s still too much to process to be sent upstairs to get dressed,” says Romanowski. “The physical disconnect from you is not very motivating.” So take a deep breath, go upstairs and support him as he goes through his routine—and remind yourself you won’t still be putting his pants on in college.