Believe me, I know, mornings in a busy house with kids can be tough. There are several guidelines that can help in this hectic transition time.
- Build a real routine – Many families have a solid bedtime routine, but fewer have a great morning routine. If you are one of those winging it in the morning families, it is time to get a routine. Start by deciding what time you want to walk out the door. Next, list all the things that need to happen before that from wake-up to out, and decide about how much time you’ll need for each step. Working backwards gives you a wake-up time.
- End with fun so you have something to work towards and a buffer – Now take that well planned schedule and bump everything earlier by 10 minutes. Set aside this bit of time at the end for the kids to do something enjoyable. This may be reading or lego time, it may be time with the puppy. This gives your kids something to work towards, and gives you a 10 minute buffer for sanity’s sake.
- Get visual – Work with your child to make a chart or a poster including the steps of your new routine. Let them make the decisions to write a chart, draw pictures or take pictures for the illustrations. Give them time to decorate it and make it their own. Put it somewhere easily visible to all.
- Stick to the schedule – Help your child make it through the routine, and have the 10 minutes for something enjoyable at least a few mornings. Make it your goal to stick to the schedule for a month, a routine only helps if you do it.
- Think logistics for sticking points – If getting dressed is a battle, put it first rather than last in the routine. Make a rule that breakfast is for dressed people. If you’re really desperate, have them sleep in their next day clothes (at least the shirt, underwear and socks).
- Give jobs – To keep kids in the routine, it may be helpful to give them individual responsibilities as they go. Make one the toothpaste squeezer, another the cereal pourer. Titles are appealing to younger children. Think to rotate jobs every few days.
- Give choices – Choices allow the child some power. Here and there, share a bit. Ask, “do you want cereal or oatmeal this morning?” or, “do you want to wear shorts or a skirt?” or, “do you want to get dressed by yourself or with help?”
- Give challenges – Can they get dressed before you? Can they get to the table faster this morning than yesterday?
- Do what you can the night before – In our house, homework isn’t complete until it is in the backpack and by the front door with all papers signed. Some gung-ho families make lunches the night before and lay out clothes. Every little bit helps.
- As they are able, give them more responsibility in the process – If you trust, let them take over the tooth brushing. If they do, let them wake-up by an alarm.
- Plan with simple and healthy in mind for breakfast – It’s great if you can cook a full hot breakfast every morning. I am not knocking that at all, in fact I’d like to wake-up at your house! I often cook on the weekends, but go the easy route on weekdays keeping health in mind. We do a lot of scrambled eggs, hard-boiled before eggs, whole grain cereal, yogurt, cheese sticks, toast and fruit salad. Things that take just a minute or two, and we can keep well stocked.
I’d like to share a few of our holiday traditions that revolve around reading. We’ve compiled a stack of 25 Christmas themed picture books. Each night, starting on the first of the month we include one in our read aloud time before bed. On the night of the 25th, we read what was their favorite The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Scarry.
Each Christmas morning there are three new books for each child under the tree. I recognize they quickly get set aside for the toys and tech gadgets, but I think it is important to have books be a piece of the gift exchange. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve branched out with more reading related gifts. This includes book marks, box sets, a writing journal, magazine subsriptions (thanks grandpa!) and now a kindle. I recently read a suggestion to wrap one book and leave it on the child’s bed, so the first thing they open on Christmas morning is a new book. For you last minute shoppers, http://www.bookswithbows.com/DanaHome.asp is an online service that sends your loved one a book-a-month based on the categories you select.
You might also check these great holiday reading tips from Reading Is Fundamental http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTgEorSmd7o&feature=youtu.be. In this clip, Dr. Judy Cheatham reviews tips to build a love of reading over the holidays. Enjoy!
Every year, around this time, I get asked how to balance the fun of Christmas and being honest with your children about Santa. In our house, we’ve struck a balance by avoiding a direct answer. When eight-year-old Alicen started asking if Santa was real, we answered something along the lines of, “he’s real in the hearts of the people who believe in him.” or, “santa represents the spirit of the holiday and the joy of giving.” A year later the question shifted to a more direct, “mommy, do you believe in Santa?” To which I replied, “yes, because it’s fun to believe. It’s a nice part of celebrating the holiday with you.” My daughters are 11 and 13 this year and they’ve stopped asking. They are happy to sit on Santa’s lap (the one thing I now guilt them into each year so we have the pictures) and look forward to decorating cookies to leave out. Believing has just become part of the tradition, part of the fun.
I have a tendency to over schedule. As we enter the Holiday Season, this year more than ever, I want to slow down, appreciate the small things and make time for family. Here are a few things I am going to keep in mind, not just to keep sanity, but hopefully to add enjoyment.
- Help children plan their gift giving – I sat with the girls this weekend and helped them to build a list of what giftcards they wanted to get for which teachers, which friends they wanted to buy for and who they feel we need to add to our card list.
- Start shopping early and space out errands – We took a trip to the mall on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. to start on their lists and look for holiday ideas for a few relatives. We are far enough out that it was low key and fun.
- Focus on experience and time more than spending and things – We are focused on giving experiences like concert and play tickets or classes through the community center. Claire (youngest daughter) is giving Troy (husband) a gift card for rock climbing they can use together.
- Focus on your family’s true meaning of the holidays – Whatever your beliefs, focus there. In our house, there is focus on faith, family and traditions. Build holiday activites around what is really important to you.
- Build in kid-fun – It’s around this time every year, we spend a few hours on a Saturday morning making Gingerbread houses decorated with all the leftover Halloween candy. Build pillow forts, and stock up on hot cocoa.
- Remember downtime in the schedule – Most children benefit from having at least some downtime (relaxed playtime) everyday. As much as there are errands to run and places to be, build in time to chill and recharge.
- Take time to be thankful – Have conversations often about what we are thankful for, what makes us happy, how we like to share our downtime and what we love about one another. Especially when things are stressful, it’s good to focus on and share the positives; it’s good to be specific.
In addition to the Parenting Answers I provide through addressing the questions you submit and posting our own tips by topic, I am adding two new categories to the blog. In Dr. Rene at Home, I will write about my own family life including my children, my husband and the parenting decisions and mistakes we make. In Growing Up, I will write about my parents, my brother and my childhood in general. The plan is to link these things together with thoughts on parenting and conclusions incorporating current information. This is all stuff I think about that shapes my work, but don’t as often share.
As a bit of background, I grew up in Williamburg, Virginia. My father was an education professor at William & Mary from 1973 to 2005, and my mother was an elementary school nurse. They were both involved parents and seemingly before their time with postive discipline. I have one brother, Rodney who is three years older. We always seemed to get along, but didn’t often choose to play together. Williamsburg was a small college-town, it felt like most families knew each other or overlapped in some way. We grew up in a neighborhood with LOTS of children who were often outside. There was always someone available to play or ride bikes with. It felt safe.
Fast forward, I met and married Troy a year out of undergrad. We were together six years before we had Alicen and another two before Claire. They are now ten and thirteen years old. Troy’s family owns delis, he works far more than full-time. He completely supported my efforts to go through grad school and start my own business. I am now seven years into running Parenting Playgroups which offers parent workshops and children’s programs. At our height last year, we had 180 children in weekly programs. While I work, I still feel like a full-time mom. I drive in the morning and afternoon to get the girls round-trip to school and am able to be home with them in the afternoons for homework. It is all a juggle.
There are so many details I am leaving out of both of these stories, but that is what this blog is partially about.