I used to be a firm believer that you were born to either be an early bird or a night owl…until I flip flopped. All throughout college and my earlier years as a mom, I loved being a night owl. In my senior year of nursing school, I had been married for a year, had a two-week old baby, and could crank out a ridiculous amount of schoolwork during the wee hours of the morning (aka…nighttime feedings!).
Fast forward a decade and a half, and I’m now dozing off on the couch by 11:00. Okay, so it’s more like 10:30 and I’m completely zonked out with a fuzzy blanket….but that’s beside the point! Instead, I love getting up early and having a fresh (and peaceful!) start to the day.
Of course, this is the complete polar opposite of my children, especially my older two. Once Friday rolls around, they’d much rather stay up half the night playing video games and sleep until early afternoon. Which is fine…until Monday rears its ugly head. Then it’s a daunting task just to get them coherent enough to find toothpicks to prop their eyelids open for the remainder of the day.
I think it’s especially difficult to adjust to early mornings after a summer full of unstructured mornings and carefree days. However, there are several ways to help ease this transition and make it less painful for both kids and parents alike.
Determine a reasonable wake-up time
There tends to be a thin line between too early and too late when it comes to getting up on school mornings. If your child has too much extra time in the morning, it’s time that could have been spent recreating one last REM cycle before morning comes. However, if you miss the mark and don’t have enough time to get ready, both you and your child will be faced with a morning filled with rushing and frustration.
As a parent, you are the best judge of how long your child needs to comfortably get up, wake up (so not the same thing as getting up!), eat breakfast, and get ready for school. And honestly, it can vary widely even between two children in the same family.
It’s important to sit down with your child and discuss what needs to be accomplished in the morning before heading out the door. Once you’ve created the list, determine how much time needs to be allotted for each activity. When you agree upon the amount of time necessary, add ten minutes as a buffer time for all those things that inevitably tend to go wrong in the morning. Subtract that amount of time from when your child needs to be at school, and you’ll have a good starting point for setting the alarm clock.
Accomplish what you can in the evening
If your child is not a fan of early morning wake-up calls, he or she would probably be much more motivated to accomplish as much as they can in the evening as a trade-off for a little extra sleep. By planning ahead, the following can all be finished before your child goes to bed at night:
- ensure all homework is completed and put in the correct folder/binder
- make sure all papers and permission slips are signed and/or acknowledged by parents
- pack up backpack
- fix lunch and pack into bag or put in refrigerator until morning
- set out breakfast for the morning (or at least plan ahead and know what you’ll be making)
- lay out clothes for the next day including shoes and a jacket if needed
- take a shower/bath before bed at night
If there are items your child needs that cannot be packed up the night before such as refrigerated foods, it’s helpful to put a sticky note on the door you’ll be leaving from in the morning to remind yourself to grab these items before you leave. Also, it’s wise to choose a designated spot to lay out your child’s backpack, clothes, and lunch each evening so they know where to look in the morning. This prevents the need to search for lost shoes and books in the rush of early morning.
Enforce a consistent bedtime
The success of adjusting to an early morning routine hinges largely upon maintaining a consistent bedtime for your child the night before. No matter how well you plan out your morning, if your child has gone to bed late, it will be a huge stumbling block in your efforts to get them out the door on time the next day.
It’s crucial to implement a consistent bedtime routine in order to prevent late bedtimes for your child (you can find plenty of tips here). That being said, there are evenings when a later than usual bedtime simply cannot be avoided. As a mom of two high school students, I know that there are some nights when the homework assigned is overwhelming and takes longer than usual to accomplish.
On nights like these, aside from encouraging your child to manage their time as efficiently as possible, it can be difficult to ensure they get as much sleep as they really should. It’s helpful to encourage them to accomplish as much as they can the night before (as mentioned above), so they’re less likely to forget anything the next morning, especially if they are more tired than usual.
Create a check off list
If your child has a hard time creating or sticking to a routine, a check off list can really be a time saver in the morning. Once you’ve put together a routine for your child’s morning, you can either write it out or find a template online that can be personalized.
By laminating the check off list, it not only makes it more durable, but your child can also use a dry-erase marker to check off their progress throughout the morning. It would be easy to hang up this list somewhere accessible such as the refrigerator, the mirror in the bathroom, or on your child’s bedroom door.
Plan for bad weather and traffic
Maybe some of you who are reading this live in a balmy location that never gets below 40 degrees. I’ll pretend I’m not slightly envious that you don’t have to traverse roads that are filled with snow and ice.
For the rest of us though, a slight dusting of snow can make a tremendous difference in the road conditions on school mornings. Who am I kidding? For everyone who lives in Cincinnati, y’all know that a slight drizzle can create havoc on the roads around town!
Assuming you get up earlier than your child, it’s wise to check the traffic and weather reports to make sure that you don’t need to allow extra time for safe travel. This will ensure that you have plenty of time to sit through the traffic jam or maneuver over tricky roads without driving hazardously or having your child show up late for school.
Determine if your child needs a snooze button
I know….I know….all those sleep experts out there are going to hate that I’m mentioning a snooze button. That being said, I’m the kind of person who needs just five more minutes to realize that morning has truly arrived and I’m not just dreaming that the alarm is going off.
If your child has a hard time popping out of bed as soon as the alarm sounds in the morning, budget a five minute buffer to allow him or her to snooze for just a few minutes longer. Now granted, if you have a child who repeatedly begs for “just five more minutes,” the snoozing idea probably isn’t going to be a viable option.
Take a deep breathe and know that it’s just one day
Despite our best intentions, we all have mornings that go awry. The cat escapes out the front door, a shoe is missing, the usual route to school is completely backed up, and one of your kids forgot their lunch. Oh wait, is that just me?!
But seriously, some days it’s very tempting to wave the white flag and give up on trying to create an early morning routine. On those mornings, it’s important to take a deep breath and remember that maintaining consistency is the key element for long-term success.
Have you missed previous posts in the Surviving the Back to School Season Series? If so, you can read previous posts from the series here.