Ending The Morning Madness

Back-to-school time ? what does that mean to you? For some people, it's shopping for school supplies, gearing up for PTA meetings, and artwork taped to the refrigerator. For others, it's the beginning of a constant struggle to get everyone up, ready, and out of the house on time. Morning should be an enjoyable time for you and your kids ? not a battle of the wills or a race against the clock. But you can make the "morning mambo" go a lot smoother, with a little advance preparation and some good organizing techniques!

GET READY THE NIGHT BEFORE (OR SOONER!)

How much of your AM stress is caused by rushing around at the last minute taking care of routine chores? Getting ready in the morning can be so much easier if you start working on it the night before. Have your children spend 15 minutes before they go to bed packing everything they need for school into their book bags. Ask your kids to pick out the clothes they plan to wear and lay them out on a chair. Put together everyone's lunches and store them in the refrigerator overnight. One of my clients finds it easier ? with four kids to get ready in the morning ? to plan out a week's worth of lunches each Sunday. She fills 20 paper lunch bags with non-perishable foods ? juice boxes, chips, fruit ? and labels them with the child's name and the day of the week. Then each morning, all she has to do is add a sandwich or soup and hand it to the right child. And while she's preparing lunches, her kids are putting together a week's worth of outfits together in their closets. Mornings are now a snap at her house!

Planning ahead is especially important for bigger projects. How many times do you find yourself making a last-minute batch of cupcakes or sewing a costume for the school play 15 minutes before little Johnny is supposed to leave the house? As soon as you find out about a special event at school ? a field trip, a class party, an awards banquet ? you should note three different dates on your calendar. Mark the date you will buy the supplies, including a list of everything you need to get. Mark the date you will start your preparations ? which could be days or weeks ahead of time, depending on the size of the project. Then mark the date the event occurs, with a list of everything you need to send to school with your child. The more you spill out of your head and onto your calendar, the less likely you are to forget something important.

CREATE A "LAUNCHING PAD"

How many attempts does it take for you to herd your brood out of the house in the morning? As you steer everyone toward the door, a small voice says, "I forgot my lunch." You go back, finding the stray lunch bag on the kitchen counter. On your second time out, someone else pipes up, "Where are my library books?" A short search locates them under the sofa. You try a third time, only to hear the words, "I left my homework on the dining room table." This can go on for days! Some mornings seem like a comedy of errors ? the Three Stooges in miniature. But it's not particularly funny when you find yourself running 45 minutes behind, the kids have missed the bus, and you have to drive them to school. Now they are going to be late for class, your schedule is thrown off for the day, and everyone is in a bad mood. How can you prevent this scenario from repeating itself over and over again?

The key is to set up a "launching pad" ? a table, chair, basket, or other container located near the door. When your children gather up their school supplies the night before, have them place their book bags at the "launching pad." If your kids can't remember what they might need, create a standard checklist for them ? homework, band instrument, gym clothes, sports equipment, supplies for any extracurricular activities, library books, whatever. You can even make a note of where they tend to leave things if that helps ? "Gym Clothes: check the laundry basket." The goal is to make sure that everything they need for school is in one place when it comes time to leave. Then, your children can simply grab their bags on the way out of the door, instead of playing hide-and-seek with their school supplies.

DEVELOP A ROUTINE

Kids ? particularly small children and those with ADD / ADHD tendencies ? need a lot of structure to be able to function effectively. But in our fast-paced society, few adults even make time for a stable daily routine in their own lives. We go ninety miles an hour, grab quick meals on the way from one activity to the next, stay up late to get it all done, and wake feeling exhausted the next morning. Worst of all, we're teaching these unhealthy habits to our kids. It's time to reverse the "rush" now, before these behaviors set in.

Start off with a consistent schedule for going to bed ? one that allows your children a full eight hours of sleep. Hitting the sack at 7:00 one night and 10:00 the next is hard on a child's body and keeps your little one from developing good nighttime habits. Also pay attention to what your kids do before they retire for the evening. There is nothing that feels less like going to sleep than blasting monsters on the Nintendo for hours and then being abruptly rushed off to bed! Developing a relaxing routine ? a warm bath, brush your teeth, read a story, then lights out ? will help both you and your kids unwind and sleep easier.

A solid routine in the morning is just as important. Again, there is nothing more unpleasant that being hauled out of bed and immediately thrown into turmoil. You can help your kids ? especially your sleepyheads ? get in gear by developing a schedule that gradually increases their activity level as the morning progresses. And give yourself some "buffer" time for getting ready. Letting your kids sleep until the last possible minute is just asking for a rushed and stressful morning. Although they will probably complain, get them out of bed so that they have time to spare ? even if the toaster explodes, Sally can't find her shoe, and the car won't start!

STARTING THE DAY OFF RIGHT

So often in these busy and stressful times, we feel at the mercy of the world around us. But your morning routine is one area of life that you control completely. You make the choice about what kind of day you will have ? one that begins calmly and with quality family time, or one that starts off crazed and goes downhill from there. And back-to-school is the perfect time to start etching those positive routines into stone ? before the bad habits start up again. So take a moment to ask yourself ? when the first day of school hits this year, what kind of day will you have?

Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of OnlineOrganizing.com -- offering "a world of organizing solutions!" Visit http://www.onlineorganizing.com for organizing products, free tips, a speakers bureau -- and even get a referral for a Professional Organizer near you. And if you are interested in becoming a Professional Organizer, we have all the tools you need to succeed. If you would like to reprint this article, please send in an e-mail request to [email protected]

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