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Mendo Lake Family Life

School Morning Madness

By Christina Katz

Kids become competent in increments. Every time a child becomes cheerfully autonomous, parents win, too. I don’t remember the exact year my daughter crossed the line from needing help in the morning to being able to manage everything herself. But I do remember the thrill when she could finally tick each step of preparation off an imaginary list in her head. Here’s how to practice getting your kids out the door smiling every day until the entire process becomes routine.

Set expectations. Everyone must wake up by a certain time if your family is going to have enough time to make a smooth transition from home to school. Alarm clocks must be set. Bedtimes must be adhered to and may need adjusting as the school year rolls along. Cell phones and other electronic devices must be put away at night and stay away until right before leaving the house.

Pre-plan. Have a family meeting on Sunday afternoons or evenings so you can discuss the plans for the week, go over logistics, and sign permission slips or write checks. Stocking the fridge and cabinets over the weekend makes Monday mornings go much more smoothly.

Post a checklist. You know your children need to put on their shoes, brush their teeth, make their lunches, and pack their backpacks, but it’s going to take time before these practices become routine. Create a customized checklist in the order they need to do things. Post it somewhere accessible, such as on the stairway or inside the doors to their rooms.

Create enthusiasm. Home is safe and cozy, but adventures take place on the other side of the door. What is your child enthusiastic about? Animals, nature, and friends are all waiting for them out in the world. Sensitive or introverted kids may not be that enthused about seeing hundreds of kids at school each morning, but you can make the transition smoother by focusing on the puppies they’ll get to pat or on the worms they can stop and study for a few moments on the way. Whatever it takes to get your child to focus on a fun transition from home to school—that’s what to use as motivation.

Notice reluctance. If your child does not want to get out the door, you may be dealing with procrastination. Pay attention to your child’s feelings and moods in the morning. Put on your detached detective hat. Notice signals your child is giving you about dreading to go to school and discuss them during a non-threatening time, such as over the weekend or in the car while doing errands, rather than on a school morning. Don’t dismiss reluctance to go to school. Instead, work together to put your child’s mind at ease about legitimate concerns.

Supervise progress. Some kids need help getting and staying focused, so go ahead and supervise. Mornings can become a time when that comic book on the bedroom floor seems much more appealing than packing the backpack. If kids have cell phones, their ears are perked up listening for incoming message tones. While you are assisting little ones who need extra help, keep an eye out for wandering attention. Pop your head in the kids’ rooms to check on them.

Encourage autonomy. Don’t keep doing tasks for your children that they can do themselves. If they can tie their own shoes, patiently wait for them to do it. If they can make their own breakfasts, compliment their healthy choices. Building skills means doing tasks many times before they become routine. So, unless the bus is coming down the road, try to resist the urge to jump in and hurry things along.

Expect mistakes. Say your child forgets her lunch bag one day. Assuming it’s not a chronic issue, acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes. Being quick to forgive helps kids to swiftly get back on track. You want to have high expectations and stick to them, while avoiding the expectation of perfection.

Offer rewards. Think of the door as the finish line, and don’t rush or scold after crossing it, if you can possibly help it. Each time you succeed at getting everyone out the door on time is a win. If you have an attitude of “Go, team!” your kids will internalize that and want to succeed each day. Every once in a while offer a spontaneous reward for a week of consistent punctuality. It’s a great way to reinforce the idea that being on time matters.

Find freelance writer Christina Katz at