5 Secrets to Stress-Free Mornings

All you need is a game plan.

102753202_web.jpg

If getting kids off to school saps your energy and sends you into your day already exhausted, you aren't alone—in fact, parents tell me this on a regular basis. There is a better way! Establish a smoother, sanity-saving routine with a three-pronged approach.

BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS

In order to set about creating a realistic a.m. time line, you need to know roughly how long it takes your kids to complete certain tasks. So first things first: For a week or two, make it your business to keep a detailed log, noting how long it takes them to do morning-specific activities, such as shower, get dressed and eat a decent breakfast. This information will help you establish an overall framework and dictate how much time everyone actually needs to get out the door, which can help you plan effectively.

Brainstorm a comprehensive reminder checklist. Include everything a kid could need—backpack, lunch, cell phone, keys, instrument, sports equipment. Jot it on a dry-erase board or on a piece of paper tacked to a cork board right by the launching pad (see "P.M. Pointers") so you can easily update it when necessary.

THE ROUTINE ITSELF

Obviously, waking up is the first challenge. Buy alarm clocks with extra-loud bells or buzzers, and don't even think about allowing the use of a snooze button—that's a rabbit hole no one should go down. Avoid music because it tends to quickly become white noise and lull the listener back to sleep. Don't put the clock next to the bed—instead, place it as far away as possible to force your kids out from under the covers to turn off the alarm. Once they're up, the odds that they'll get moving increase exponentially. At that point, music can be invigorating. If your teen needs an initial energy jolt, don't be afraid to blast the tunes. In my house, the first thing my husband does when he gets downstairs is crank up the stereo. Nothing puts a smile on my face faster than hearing my son come out of the bathroom singing whatever song is on—then I know he's in the swing of things.

If your kids seriously dawdle, try a technique I call billboarding. First, place an analog (non-digital) clock in every room of the house your kids use—yes, even the bathroom—so they can see the "sweep" of time. Place a large sticky note next to the clock with the clearly written time they need to be out of that room. Seeing the clock hands moving alongside the reminder of what time they need to leave the room will help keep your dawdlers on track.

Cede control whenever you can. Does your son like to brush his teeth at the kitchen sink? Does your daughter want to wait until she's in the car to put on her jacket? Maybe it's not what you would do or want them to do. Let them anyway. As long as kids are moving through their morning routine, give them as much control as possible. Remember, getting out the door quickly in the morning is our priority, not theirs.

P.M. POINTERS

Don't muck up the morning with tasks that can easily be done the night before.

Kids Should

Choose clothes: That means everything, including accessories, shoes, even a coat.

Shower: If it's a tough sell, point out that an evening shower can result in a little extra morning sleep.

Double-check the launching pad: It's a dedicated space for everything—packed backpack, instruments, gym sneakers, library books, whatever—they will need to grab and go in the morning.

Mom or Dad Should

Prep breakfast: Place yogurt at eye level in the fridge or protein bars on the counter.

Talk the talk: If you need to go over anything about the next day or an after-school plan, now is the time.

MEET THE EXPERT Mom of two Leslie Josel is the founder of Order Out of Chaos, a consulting firm specializing in student organization. For more information, go to orderoochaos.com.