I am convinced that the way a morning goes is the family’s equivalent to waking up on a certain side of the bed. When we say someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed we mean to say that they started the day grumpy, tired, unhappy, or irritable and it’s generally assumed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: that is, the rest of the day seems to fall in line with the state of their bad attitude.
In the same way, if the first hour of the morning presents itself as chaotic, difficult, and uncooperative, the outlook for the rest of the day is dim. Our morning, in a sense, can wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
What is the key, then, to making sure our day starts on the right side? How do we set up the rest of the day for success?
Routine. Routine, routine, routine.
You simply must have a morning routine – a general way the morning flows that repeats day after day. You do not need to follow a clock – some meals are faster than others, sometimes you have to be somewhere earlier or later, and sometimes the kids are just in some sort of mood – but there must be a predictable flow of events that the children (and you) can expect to run through each and every day (even the weekends, to some extent).
Your routine is what allows you to get everyone dressed, ready, and prepared for the day, to clean the house and accomplish a few daily chores without losing your patience and frankly your mind. It kicks the day off in a calm and productive manner, and this carries over throughout the rest of the day. A morning started in chaos has very little chance of redeeming itself before nap time – and maybe not even before bed!
What are the keys to having a successful routine?
First and foremost, everyone must know what the routine is. This is easy to accomplish – follow the same pattern every day and even the smallest children will pick it up quickly. My 10 month olds, for example, are familiar enough with our mornings to crawl straight from their rooms to their high chairs after I nurse them. They understand that after nursing comes breakfast.
Second, the routine should be systematic. I would suppose that the more children you have, the more systematic it must be. By systematic, I mean that you attack the things that need to get done in an organized, intentional manner. Of course there can be some flexibility to your routine, but a routine of “let everyone do whatever they want while I scramble around trying to pack lunches, start laundry, and wrangle everyone into their pants” is just as bad as having no routine at all.
Your preferred system may be more of an assembly line (everyone gets dressed, then everyone has their teeth brushed, then everyone has their hair done) or it may be working on one child at a time (I prefer this method – it’s motivating to me to finish one child and move on to the next). Your preferred system for getting in the car could be belongings first, then oldest to youngest, or it could be the other way around. It doesn’t matter what your system is specifically so long as you do follow a system for getting the kitchen cleaned, the house in order, and the children dressed, ready, and in the car if it applies.
Third, any task that can be accomplished independently should be accomplished independently. Think about who is doing what at each stage of the routine. After breakfast, my 2 year old will clear the table while my 4 year old unloads the dishwasher, and I dress the babies. I should not find myself assisting the 4 year old with drying the dishes because she is capable of doing that herself. When it comes to dressing, the 2 year old is capable of putting on his own underwear and pants and so he should. This frees me up to accomplishing something else during that time. It also keeps everyone focused on completing their task instead of making messes, arguing with each other, or occupying themselves with any number of other unhelpful things.
Fourth, do not allow yourself to get frazzled. Perhaps this point is redundant, because when your routine is in place and flowing well, there just isn’t much opportunity or reason to get frazzled, but I’ll mention it anyway. Stay calm. You are in control. You are following an established a routine and you know that as long as you continue along doing the next thing, it will all get done. Everyone will be dressed, the kitchen will be clean, the laundry will be started, and you will be on your way. Worry only about the particular part of the routine that you are completing at that moment, and it should keep you calm.
Fifth, and I know I may get some push back from this, eliminate electronics from your routine. This applies to both you and your children. You may think it’s a perfect idea to turn on a show for your toddler so you can clean up the breakfast mess, but I have found even young children have trouble recovering when screen time is over and they need to swiftly move into the next stage of the routine. As it applies to you, texting or checking social media in the middle of trying to get everyone ready is routine-suicide. I’ve even had to stop listening to podcasts because they can at times distract me from the next task at hand. Music is okay (and honestly, helpful sometimes!) but anything beyond that has the propensity to tragically derail the routine, and consequently, the morning.
We are creatures of habit, are we not? Everyone benefits from having a systematic routine in place. Starting your morning off this way essentially wakes you up on the right side of the bed and sets you up for a day that is smooth, productive, and pleasant.
Today everyone from the Babywise Friendly Blog Network is posting about routines! Check out their posts below.