Mornings are super busy in many homes. But you can certainly keep the stress in check with meticulous planning and time management. That’ll give you a head start for the day.
By Aruna Raghuram
After downing two cups of hot coffee, Shruti feels better equipped to deal with Monday morning madness. Getting up was the first hurdle – she is not a morning person. Why does the alarm clock sound so harsh? Then, there is breakfast to be made. Aditya, 8, and Ananya, 4, are to be woken up, bathed and dressed for school and preschool, respectively. Waking them up is a task she dreads. They ignore her or pretend they are feeling sick. She starts yelling and pulling off the bed covers in panic. The school bus comes at 7.30 a.m. and Ananya has to be dropped off at 8. It’s already 6.45 a.m.!Rohit, her husband, helps with getting them ready and packing their lunch boxes. But where are Aditya’s socks? Why is he taking so long in the bathroom? Ananya is wailing at the breakfast table – she does not like the oatmeal that has been prepared. Also, she wants to stay home today. An SOS is sent to the children’s nanny to come early. Meanwhile, Aditya announces he has a maths test he forgot about. As Shruti is ready to tear her hair out, she smells something burning on the stove. After rescuing the pasta and putting it in the lunch boxes, she rushes Aditya through some basic maths concepts before they race down the stairs with his backpack half open. They just manage to catch the bus.
Does it sound like a typical morning at your home too?
Weekday mornings can be stressful for both parents and children. The reason: there’s a lot to get done and time is short. Since this is an expected scenario, it actually shouldn’t be too difficult to handle it.
A 2018 survey conducted by Kelloggs of 2000 working parents showed that on an average they finish 43 tasks, including chores and getting their children ready for school, before they make it to office. Most leap out of bed by 6 a.m and rush headlong into their chores, fighting against time to get it all done. Most parents who participated in the survey said they often felt they had gone through an entire day by 11 a.m.! But that’s not all. This mad rush sets off various ripples.
Find peace in the morning rush and you will have a good day. – Mike Dolan, American actor
If your interaction with your child as you wave her off to school is a happy one, isn’t the day more likely to go well for both of you? For that to happen, you need to cope well with the morning rush.
How do parents deal with the morning rush in a calm and wholesome manner? Managing time and tasks efficiently is the key.
Ensure sufficient sleep: Mornings are bound to be hard if children wake up bleary-eyed, tired, slow-footed and cranky. Actually, this applies to parents too. Get children to bed early, especially on school nights. Make a rule – stop phone calls, surfing, video games and television one hour before bedtime. Both parents and children should have a regular sleep pattern. A poll conducted by the US-based National Sleep Foundation found that 60% of children under 18 years of age said they felt tired during the day, and 15% actually fell asleep in school!
Start preparing the day before: A lot can be done the night/evening before. "Make your child a part of the planning for the next day and, actually, for the entire week", advises Waldmann.
Get up when the alarm goes off: This may be tough, especially if you are not a morning person. But getting up as soon as the alarm buzzes is a must for a stress-free morning. Wake up before the children so that you have time for a quiet cup of coffee and a quick scan of the newspaper. This quiet time will also get you mentally prepared for the challenges ahead. If possible, get ready for the day before you wake the children up. If your children need half an hour to get themselves out of bed, plan to start waking them half an hour earlier. You can even get your six-year-old to pick an alarm clock of her choice (a digital one would be best).
Have a set morning routine: Keep your first waking hour as consistent as possible. Not having to take decisions about what to do in the morning saves a lot of time and mental energy. Instead of jumping out of bed, take your time. Open the curtains and enjoy the sunlight. This will get you alert. You can play music either for relaxation or to keep you upbeat as you go about your morning activities.
Ideally, you should have time in the morning for some relaxed stretches or meditation. Try to fit in some form of exercise as this will enhance your ability to deal with stressors. Music and exercise in the midst of a hectic morning? Unrealistic, you may think. But it is possible to incorporate these into your routine with some planning.
Create rituals: "Plan for some time with your child to talk and connect, for instance, chat while having breakfast together. Creating rituals is a powerful way to create a deep connection", suggests Waldmann. Some families have a ritual of reading books or listening to music over breakfast.
Start the day on a positive note: A quick hug, a friendly “good morning” will set the tone for the morning and make your children more cooperative.
Dr. Laura Markham in her book ‘Peaceful parents, Happy kids’ talks about the morning routine, “Use connection routines to make transitions easier. Kids find transitions hard, and the morning is full of transitions. So, if getting your child out of bed is a challenge, make sure you get five minutes of relaxed snuggle time with each child as they wake up. End your morning snuggle by holding hands as you go downstairs, and make that a meaningful connection time for your child, during which you both come up with something you’re grateful for, or something you’re looking forward to today (naturally, yours will relate to your child).”
Encourage independence: If your child can dress herself, allow her to do it even if it takes longer. Factor this extra time into your schedule. Give your children sufficient time to complete tasks instead of nagging them anxiously. Also, get children to help you. If they are old enough, ask them to lay the breakfast table, fill their water bottles and make sandwiches for their snack. Keep them busy. This will keep them out of mischief and also make them feel responsible. Says Dr. Markham in her book, “Empower your child by taking photos of him doing his morning tasks and making a chart with him that you can point to if he gets derailed.”
Break the morning routine into steps: Time each task and discuss with your children beforehand the overall morning plan. Many children have no sense of urgency and you need to tell them they have to finish breakfast in 15 minutes, they have another 15 minutes to get dressed, and so on. If necessary, use a stop-watch or timer. You may need to schedule bathroom time as this can be a bottleneck if there are more family members than the number of bathrooms.
Turn media off to avoid distractions: Do not put on the television in the morning, even to see the news. And certainly do not use it to babysit children while you get the chores done. It is better to hand them a book or put on music of their choice. An alternative is to use media as an incentive. Tell your children that if they are ready well in time, they can watch television for 10 minutes before they leave for school. You will notice that this gets them moving faster!
Parents should resist the temptation to check their phones, email, or social media while getting their children through the morning rush..
Keep your temper in check: Avoid snapping and shouting at your children. It will not work to hurry them. In fact, they may react with a tantrum or a bout of crying, which will slow things down further. Talk softly and kindly. Do not react if your child is rude – he might just be cranky in the mornings. Pick your battles. If your nine-year-old wants to wear his favourite cap to school, allow him to do so even though it is a bit dirty. It is not a big deal.
Play it out: Sometime during the weekend, get your child to act out the morning routine, using a mom-and-baby toy. Have the little one resist, whine, collapse. Have the mom ‘lose it’. Now, hand your child the ‘mom’ toy and play out the scenario again with you taking the child’s role. Make it funny so that both of you can laugh and let off the steam. For example, you could include scenarios in which the kid ends up reaching school in her night wear. Not only will you learn something about how to make things work better, you will have a more cooperative child on Monday.
Take care of your own needs: A 2012 poll conducted on behalf of Breakfast Cereals Canada found that not taking enough time to take care of their own needs increases the stress factor for many parents. Moms and dads who reported spending less time getting themselves ready and more time focused on the family were more likely to call mornings the most stressful time of day.
The poll also revealed some gender gaps: nearly twice as many moms (64%) than dads (36%) said they spent more time focused on getting everyone else ready in the morning than themselves.
The first reason we don’t have a morning rush in our family is that we all go to bed very early. My kids, aged two-and-a-half and five, are out like a light between 7.30 and 8 p.m. Sometimes, I fall asleep at the same time. At other times, I put them to bed and then finish some chores or work. But I too go to bed by 10 p.m. Second, we get up early. I wake up really early – by 5 a.m. – to prepare breakfast and pack lunch for them. The children wake up by 6 and leave for school at 8 a.m. So, you see there is a large time gap between waking up and stepping out of the house. This gives us the time to have a leisurely breakfast. In fact, I even read books to them while they eat! Since I bathe them in the evening, when they come back from play all muddy and sweaty, it saves considerable time in the morning.
The third thing is planning. I ask them the day before what they want as a snack and lunch. I only give them choices of what I can easily make in the morning. Offering them a choice makes them feel very empowered. Also, it makes it very easy for me, as, when I wake up, I know exactly what I have to do. At times, my children sit on the kitchen slab and help me prepare breakfast. It is a shared activity which is fun and also very calming for everyone as there is no hurry to do anything. I don’t think the morning routine will get any tougher when they grow up as they will be independent and responsible by then. And, the foundation that has been laid would have become a habit.
- Dr Meghna Singhal, working mother of two young children
In conclusion, I would like to quote Dr Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and author. In the article ‘The Morning Rush’ that appeared on the website experiencelife.com, she says: “The biggest barrier to serenity in the morning is in your own head: It’s how you frame the day.” If you can do some simple reframing as soon as you wake up, the morning can be a great time to carve out some calm space and time for yourself, and set yourself up for a more peaceful and productive day, she emphasises.
About the author:
Written by Aruna Raghuram on 2 August 2019.
Aruna Raghuram is a journalist and has worked with various newspapers, writing and editing, for two decades. She has also worked for six years with a consumer rights NGO. Presently, she is a consultant with ParentCircle.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD, on 5 August 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist with a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia). She is Head of the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle.
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