If you scour the Internet, you'll find a million and one ways to get more out of your mornings, such as taking five minutes to meditate or hitting a cold shower instead of a warm one. These tips are all well and good and, in many cases, actually have some sound science backing them up. But what do you do when kids are thrown into the mix? I can guarantee that I'm not leisurely sipping a latte as I search for a missing shoe or ask my kids (for the fifth time) to brush their teeth.
Now, I'm still learning as I go, like any parent does. But I understand that the whole "morning sets the tone for the whole day" applies to anybody of any age. If you can get the first few hours to go well, you and your kids will be primed to learn, create and interact in successful ways. So here's what I suggest, based on my experience.
1. Give them five minutes in bed.
Regardless of whether your kids are 5 or 15, early school and daycare times typically mean you have to set an alarm. Ideally, they'll adjust to the early time and start waking up on their own, but this can take a several weeks, and it's easy to get thrown off if you're shuffling between houses, have a late night or have some unexpected stimulation like a younger sibling sneaking between rooms. And if the alarm happens at an odd point in their sleep cycle, they're going to be groggy. Even if everything is perfect, it still can take a good 30 to 60 minutes for their brains to wake up fully. You can't expect them to hop up and immediately start following your orders.
If your kids are younger, turn on the lights or throw open the curtains and wake them up with sounds they like, such as their favorite song or a track of bird calls. Get into bed with them or just sit by the side, take the blankets off, and talk simply to them, such as telling them you can see the sun making a rainbow through the window. Take a minute to cuddle so they feel safe and get some oxytocin flowing, then get them going with a few back scratches, tickles or general silliness. If your kids are older, it's fine to give them a little more space, but get them talking, such as asking if they plan to grab a shower or whether they slept OK. It's a great time to share a prayer (if you're religious) or just mention something you're thankful for.
2. Prep breakfast (and whatever else you can) ahead of time.
Throwing milk on some Cheerios can work sometimes, but if you want you and your kids to get out the door with real, fully balanced nutrition in your stomachs without a fight, you have to think ahead. Use whatever downtime you have in the evening or on the weekend to make an extra-big batch of whole wheat rainbow pancakes (food coloring is the best invention EVER), hard boil a few eggs--whatever. The main idea is, make the food preparation special so that when they wake up in the morning, they can get a little excited about eating the meal they helped make without having to rush. If you can, make a few different things you can freeze (this includes yogurt and granola breakfast popsicles, people) so you have different options to pull out of your hat. If you can extend the do-ahead practice to other tasks (e.g., getting backpacks or lunches together, picking outfits), too, do it.
3. Get dressed first.
You know how it goes. Everybody (eventually) stumbles to the kitchen or dining room, sleepily half-argues through bites of food, gets distracted by Screen X or Toy Z on the floor, tries to take care of their own business and then you've got five minutes to go and nobody's even close to being ready. If you have a rule that everybody has to be dressed before anything else, this franticness won't happen, and people will have a few extra minutes to cognitively get with it. You always can microwave your pre-assembled breakfast burrito or quickly slice an apple to take along, but you can't leave the house in your undies.
4. Slow down.
I know this one might seem counterintuitive when you really need to grab the car keys and fly. But kids will react to the sensory overload your franticness pummels them with. It's confusing and overwhelming to them, and as they try to process it all, they can shut down or try to find something else to do (translated, what you see as a distraction) for comfort. Mirror the calm you want to see so they don't freak out and have an easier time keeping pace with you.
5. Get the kids to help.
Here are two huge non-efficiency reasons for having the kids do things like take their own dishes to the table or pull their own lunch from the fridge (if they're old enough): Every time they complete a task, it's an opportunity for you to praise what they're doing or show appreciation. So even as they're perfecting self-care skills, you're diffusing potential conflict with words of affirmation that build self-esteem. Who wouldn't feel ready to conquer the day when you point out how spectacular they are and what they've already achieved? Bonus: Doing chores together promotes the idea that everyone supports each other, contributes and is connected.
Mornings aren't always going to be perfect. But a little planning can get both you and your kids off on the right foot much of the time. Start small and make your expectations clear. Eventually, the routine will be second nature. And if no one has told you or you just need to hear it again, yes, you really are a good parent. You've totally got this.