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No More A.M. Mayhem!

The night before
Ask your child to choose a favorite small toy to take with her the next day. (Then when she's set to leave the house in the morning, give her the toy to play with in the car. It can go a long way toward helping a cranky toddler put on a happy face.)

Choose and lay out your child's outfit. Each night Lisa Samalonis of Sicklerville, New Jersey, sets out everything from socks to pants for Zachary, 6, and William, 3. "They know where everything is, and they can easily get dressed on their own in the morning," she says. This is especially helpful if your child's a fashion maven who is particular when it comes to dressing. Negotiating the night before saves precious minutes in the morning.

Spend a few minutes talking about the next day's plans. "If my boys know what to expect, it gives them a sense of control," says Samalonis. "It also helps jog our memory. For instance, if Zachary has library the next day at school, we know to find his book and put it in his bag. If he has gym, he needs sweatpants and sneakers."

Put a small chalkboard in the kitchen, and each night, after your child's in bed, write a little note. It could be an invitation to go out for pizza over the weekend or a simple love message  -- something she can look forward to reading after she gets up in the morning.

Rosemary Black has her family's a.m. routine down to 30 minutes flat.

To get your child moving

In the morning, put on some briskly paced music, such as a march, as a way to get your child pumped up for the day to come. If he prefers a slower pace, play soft, soothing music.

Try not to overreact when your child's slow to get out of bed. It's hard enough for you to get up, and you understand how train schedules and school "late bells" work. All your toddler knows is that he's sleepy and you're making him rush  -- and he doesn't like it. Empathize rather than yell, and you may get better results.

[BOLD {Don't ask any questions that can have "no" for an answer.}] Instead of "Can you turn off the TV and get in the car?" or "Would you like breakfast?" say "Please turn off the TV and get into the car" or "It's time for breakfast."

Have a sense of humor. Sometimes just using a silly voice can motivate your child to cooperate. Rather than telling your 2-year-old to hurry up and get dressed, say, "Wiggle into your pants like a wiggly worm!" If he doesn't want to get out of bed, suggest, "Let's hop like bunnies and see who gets to the bathroom first!"

[BOLD {For preschoolers and up, make a "morning list" to help them get ready.}] Lachelle Laks-Smith of York, South Carolina, and her son, Damon, 5, compiled a list of everything he needs to do before leaving the house. Since he couldn't read yet, they placed a picture next to each item: For "take vitamin," they pasted a photo of a vitamin bottle, and for "wash face" and "make bed," Damon drew pictures. "He likes to verbally check each item," says Laks-Smith. "It gives him a sense of accomplishment."

Getting dressed

Try letting your preschooler dress herself in the bathroom. Kids can be easily distracted by siblings, pets, toys, and TV. A little "alone time" can help her stay focused on the task at hand.

If your child really hates this daily routine, consider putting her in a fresh pair of elastic-waist pants and a loosely fitting shirt the night before and letting her wear them the next day.

To easily keep an eye on her child while getting ready, Nancy Bernstein of San Francisco turned her bathroom into a playroom. The foam mat that covers her floor has removable letters and numbers that her 1-year-old likes to pull out and put back. "I also have baskets of toys that I switch often so she doesn't get bored," says Bernstein. "She plays happily, plus I get to spend time with her before I go."

So you can see what's in your closet at a glance, stack open-ended plastic shoe boxes and label them, hang clothes by type (skirts, pants, blouses), and each type by color.

Think ahead

Discuss with your husband how you can ease the routine. Martha and Mike Conlon of Clifton, New Jersey, went back and forth about who should shower first and how to divide up caring for their daughter, Brianna. They now alternate shower times but have a set routine for babycare. While Mike prepares their bags and puts them in the car, Martha puts Brianna into her Exersaucer and finishes getting ready. By working in tandem, they're all set to leave at the same time, and neither feels stressed or annoyed with the other for doing nothing.

Keep an emergency diaper bag in your car at all times, suggests Samantha Graziadio, mom of two, in Redmond, Washington. Include an extra change of clothes, formula, wipes, and diapers. This way, if you get halfway to daycare and your child spills or spits up on his clothes, you can do an on-the-spot change without turning around and heading home.

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