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Get Everyone Out the Door Smiling Each Morning

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 getting out the door 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 cheques. Stocking the fridge and cabinets over the weekend makes Monday mornings go much more smoothly. Sandwiches are tough to make without bread and fresh fruit and veggies are musts for growing kids. If you want your kids to feel prepared to face their days, show them that you are prepared to face each week, as well.

Post a checklist. You know your child needs to put on their shoes, brush their teeth, make their lunch, and pack their backpack, but it’s going to take time before these practices become routine. Create a customized checklist in the order they need to do things to facilitate a smooth transition from waking to leaving for school. Post it somewhere accessible, like on the stairway or inside the door to their room. Update checklists annually because school responsibilities evolve, and kids can manage a little more each year.

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 the worms they can stop and study for a few moments along 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, like over the weekend or while driving around town doing errands, rather than in the morning right before school. Don’t dismiss reluctance about school as nothing. 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 whatever siblings are doing becomes riveting. 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 helping little ones who need extra help, keep an eye out for wandering attention. Pop your head in their rooms to check on kids and peek in those lunch bags and backpacks. You will be making rounds for years before everyone is focused enough to manage the routine themselves.

Encourage autonomy. Don’t keep doing tasks for your child that they can do themselves. If your child can tie their own shoes, patiently wait for them to do it. If they can make their own breakfast, 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 their lunch bag one day. Assuming it’s not a chronic issue, acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes. Being quick to forgive is a far better example for children, as you help guide them get back on track swiftly. Once in a while, someone will oversleep. Cut everyone some slack and offer a hand with the morning routine. You want to have high expectations and stick to them while avoiding the expectation of perfection. Kids are only human and so are parents, after all.

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.

Keep-it-simple morning checklist. Hugs and kisses are far more important than hospital corners on the bed. Encourage kids to pick up after themselves but save major chores for after school and weekends.

Meanwhile, increase your successful starts by focusing on these basics:

  • Wash hands and face
  • Comb or brush hair
  • Brush teeth
  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Make lunch
  • Pack backpack
  • Put on shoes
  • Wear a warm coat
  • Say, "Love you!"
  • Share hugs and kisses

If there is one thing author, journalist, and writing coach Christina cannot bear, it’s days that get off to a stressful start. She tries to remember to breathe and be patient until everyone is successfully out the door.

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