SAVE MINUTES IN THE MORNING
How busy families can master that a.m. routine
BY PAT BURSON
September 6, 2004
Summer vacation's over, and families know what that means.
Back to the morning routine.
Dragging sleepyheads out of bed early, waiting in line for the bathroom, finding that perfect outfit, eating breakfast on the run, flying out the door just in time to catch the school bus or car pool. It can leave kids with bruised psyches and parents with frayed nerves.
But it doesn't have to be that way, time-management specialists agree, if everyone commits to a little planning and preparation.
"Simple routines will help create peaceful, positive mornings that prepare kids - and parents - to take on the pressures of the day ahead, and make it easier for family members to leave the house on time with everything - school papers, lunch money, briefcases, umbrellas, gym clothes - except pandemonium," says Kathy Peel, Dallas-based author of "The Family Manager Saves the Day: Rescue Your Family from Everyday Stress for a Peaceful, Positive Home."
Peel and other experts offer some advice for families seeking a less stressful morning:
Get a good night's sleep. Kids who've spent the summer staying up late will need some help getting to bed early. Set a bedtime that allows 10 1/2 hours of sleep for elementary school-aged children and 9 1/2 hours for teenagers, says Lawrence resident Debbie Mandel, a stress management specialist and author of "Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul."
What if the kids are too wired after dinner and homework to go to bed? "I recommend if you can get those kids to exercise a few hours before bedtime, even if you walk with them, that tires them out," says Mandel, a wife and mother of two adult children and a 15-year-old.
Shut off electronic devices, such as video games and computers, at least an hour beforehand, she says, and establish a bedtime ritual to help quiet young minds and induce sleep, such as reading a book, listening to soothing music or having a snack, avoiding foods or drinks containing caffeine. "Grandma was right. Milk and crackers work," she says.
Plan and prepare. Do as much as possible the night before. That includes finishing homework, choosing and preparing the next day's clothes, fixing lunches, setting the table for breakfast, checking the family calendar for upcoming events and placing items for work and school near the door at night so they're ready when you are the next day.
"A good night's rest always helps, but it won't prevent confusion the next morning, says Susan Gilbert, a focus expert in San Diego and author of "The Land of I Can: An Adventure in Life." "The stress level will come up, and best-laid plans will fall apart."
Delegate, delegate, delegate. You can start by deciding each partner's responsibilities. "One might dress the children, while another might make breakfast," says Odette Pollar, owner of Smart Ways to Work, a training firm in Oakland, Calif., specializing in work-life balance issues and author of "Surviving Information Overload: How to Find, Filter and Focus on What's Important."
"Once you establish a routine, it makes things easier," she says. "Who does what is determined by who has the most patience in the morning, which half you like to do, which half you hate to do."
You can also assign kids certain duties. "One child takes care of the ironing, and another packs the lunches," Gilbert says.
Can't find anything to wear? Parents should dispose of all clothing that doesn't fit and put away out-of-season items to simplify choices, Peel suggests.
Her other time-saving tips include hanging school clothes in one area of the closet; building wardrobes on basic-color bottoms that will go with a wide variety of tops; and buying socks of one kind and one color to save on searching for mates.
For young children, Peel suggests "fast" clothes, such as shoes with Velcro fasteners, tagless T-shirts and tops with ample openings that slip easily over their heads. Buttons, snaps, zippers and shoelaces, she says, can slow you down.
Avoid phone calls and other time-wasters in the morning. "Unless you're expecting a critical call, if the phone rings in the morning, do not answer it. It will simply make you late," Pollar says. "How many 7 a.m. calls are critical? It's probably a sales call. Unless you know your grandmother's in the hospital or your cousin's calling, don't answer it."
Stay cool. "Parents need to keep their stress levels down otherwise children inhale the tension," Mandel says. "Don't let it happen to you because you lose your power. If you have your power, then you can't be stressed. People can't get to you. It's really about taking control of what you can control, preparing, rehearsing it and really having a good sense of humor because that's going to take the sting out of it."
Set priorities and focus on what matters most. "Each family needs to assess what's important to them," Gilbert says. "It's about clarity. It's about getting clear about what you want in your life, in your family and in your job, and then defining the steps you want to take to get there. It's always going to come from your values.
"It goes deeper than just forming a new habit," she adds. "It's the why behind it."
Reward punctuality and cooperation. Peel suggests creating a "Sunshine Jar" for young children who drag in the morning. "Put some change in the jar each day they make progress sticking to the family schedule," she says. "Give them the money to spend on a treat at the end of the week."
Let kids learn about consequences. Larry Winget, author of "Shut up, Stop Whining & Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life," says parents need to allow their children to take on more of the responsibility of getting themselves up and ready for school.
"Whether they're 5 or 18 years old, it's the kids' responsibility," snarls Winget, the self-described "pitbull of personal development" who lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
As parents, he says, your main responsibility is to get the children to school. If they don't eat or smell fresh, even though there's food in the refrigerator or clean clothes in their closets, it's their own fault.
"They're not going to starve to death, and they won't be naked," says Winget, who admits that his "approach is definitely a little different." The point is this: "Kids need to take responsibility for their own actions," he says. "Let them suffer the consequences of their own stupid behavior. They will improve."
Allow yourself 10 to 15 extra minutes of unscheduled time. "Just the routine can often take longer for no reason you can identify," Pollar says.
"If you're ahead of schedule, you can be creative and reward your kids if they did their part. They get to do something special, like read a story before leaving, or they get to choose the radio station. If they're older kids, they get to go the cafe for breakfast before school."
A stitch in time saves 89
Want to cut 89 precious minutes from your morning routine? Author Marla Cilley suggests doing these seven simple tasks the night before:
Preparing for the morning should start the day before, says Cilley, whose Web site www.flylady.net offers tips on clutter-free living. "It's going to save more than time," says Cilley, author of "Sink Reflections." "It's going to save stress."
Sign school paperwork 5 minutes
Set the coffeemaker 7 min.
Make lunches 20 min.
Ready clothes and shoes 30 min
Set the breakfast table 2 min
Pack bookbag and/or diaper bag 10 min
Gather belongings in one spot 15 min
Total minutes saved (Hello, snooze button!) 89 min.
Need a little more help getting out in the morning? Kathy Peel, author of the newly released book "The Family Manager Saves the Day," suggests using an "exit checklist" to manage the rush with calm and confidence. Clip and make copies, or go to www. familymanager.com and click on "free" to make prints.
Signed permission slips
Notes for teachers
Clothes for dry cleaners
Letters/packages to mail
Answering machine on
Frozen food out to thaw
Security system activated
Today's panel of experts
Kathy Peel, Debbie Mandel, Susan Gilbert, Odette Pollar, Larry Winget.
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