They come every single day. Yet, inevitably, we are looking for socks, out of cereal, and running to the bus. Mornings. Why are they rough? How can we make school mornings run smoothly ( and feel less awful?) Here are some rules to help shape how you think about school mornings (and free you to be gracious with yourself.)
I am not a morning person. I am not a night person. I’m a Brunch person. I crush it from 11-1. However, these parameters do not always fit life’s demands. Mornings often feel cranky and rushed around here. Through some hard-earned experience, here are 10 rules for making school mornings run smoothly and feel better.
This might seem obvious, but scrambling for a jacket or rain boots (or PANTS!) over here can derail things pretty quickly. Knowing the weather the night before can inform if you need to layer or pass on the sandals or even braid the hair. (And there is no stress like having to get the winter clothes bin down from the attic 6 minutes before the bus comes because the temperature dropped and you have to find the Elsa ear-muffs.)
Following your weather check, this is the step when you make sure that you HAVE jackets, socks, and boots available. Locate them and line them up. Available does not mean in the laundry basket or "somewhere on the couch. "Available means NO SEARCHING REQUIRED. (Yes, by this definition, very few things in our house are regularly available.) Inventory also applies to breakfast and lunch supplies. Checking the night before can allow you to make a late-night run to the store OR simply adjust expectations for breakfast and lunch the next day.
Packing backpacks often introduces new information such as, "It's Picture Day Tomorrow!" or "Bring an apple for the science experiment!" or "It's been cold in our classroom; please send in a sweatshirt." This is vital information that often requires a new inventory check, but better the night before than in the morning.
"I need this tomorrow!" can be an unnerving demand in the morning. The night before, be sure to make lists of what errands need to be run within the week. Have a shared spot to write down items needed from the grocery store, Target, or sports-related necessities. For children, taking the action to write down their requests and being able to see the list throughout the week relieves the anxiety of feeling out of control in the process of obtaining what they need and allows the morning to go smoothly.
Prepping the night before is often the first suggestion to make mornings run smoother. Yes, many people pack lunches the night before, and some even dress their children and let them sleep in their clothes. This works for some families and not for others. Thus, my rule is “Make choices the night before.” Decide what you are going to eat for breakfast, pack for lunch, and wear to school the night before. Make sure each of these items is available and clean. Decide on transportation and after-school events the night before, ensuring that necessary discussions happen then, allowing the school morning to run smoothly.
At night, go over the next day's schedule with children. If it is a predictable day, still do this. Preschool and elementary-aged children, especially, gain security from a clear and known schedule. Again, they are acutely aware that they are not in control and are significantly comforted by the reminder that parents are in control and know the plan. If there is a change in schedule - in pick-up time, or childcare, or after-school activities, the night before is the time to calmly communicate and reiterate the new plan. You will repeat it in the morning, but it will be a reminder by then, not new information, lessening the chance of an anxious response and increasing the space for your morning to run smoothly.
It is inevitable. Certain items travel to bedrooms for bedtime and are then difficult to locate in the morning. Trust me. A hairbrush I had located at 7:30 at night disappears due to someone's late shower. Water bottles tend to migrate to bedrooms and then roll under beds just in time for the morning. School library books, without fail, live underneath bedspreads next to contraband flashlights. Find these things AGAIN after bedtime and place them where they need to be for your morning to run smoothly.
For years, I have struggled with how to make our school mornings better amidst a family of high emotion. Then I realized that my kids absorbed my anxiety. Often in the morning, I find myself panicky or even angry and have to stop and realize I need to eat. Mornings are no joke. You can’t face that scene empty. Make the time to take care of yourself before the rush. Have a cup of coffee and eat some breakfast. Step outside on the porch and breathe in and out. Build in the rituals that prepare you for the day, giving you the peace of mind to help the school morning run smoothly.
I have a hard time waking up my kids… so I used to let them sleep until the last possible moment and rush everyone towards school. There were always tears. Now, I wake them up at the same time every school morning and move them through the same order of events. Your morning sequence can look completely different from mine, but remember consistency over content. Also, maintain consistent spaces for backpacks and other school-related gear. It does not have to be a Pottery Barn Built-In (our stuff goes in the back corner of the dining room). The space just needs to be consistent. We all thrive with predictability, especially when we are half-awake.
In Kevin Henkes’s delightful picture book, “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse,” Lily’s teacher writes her a note after a day of misbehavior and consequences: “Today was a hard day. Tomorrow will be better.” Remember this when the well-planned, best-intended morning goes haywire. Take heart. I have driven to school during lunch to apologize about a morning that devolved. Breaking moments can become connecting moments. Life isn’t perfect. There are variables. You may have seen another box of Cheerios in the pantry the night before, but, turns out, it was a mirage. Grape-Nuts for everyone! This morning will be a story one day, and tomorrow will be better.