My mornings involve far more yelling than I’d like to admit (“PUT. ON. YOUR. SHOES”). So I asked our sleep expert Mahaley to tell me how to have the calm, lovely pre-dropoff hour of my dreams.
Q. Mahaley, please help me yell less?
A. If I may be honest here, I don’t have all the answers. My daughter is three, and she still wakes up in a horrible mood some mornings. I guess we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, right? But here are some strategies I’ve found to be helpful for creating a (relatively) stress-free and happy morning.
1. Make sure that your child is going to bed at an appropriate time. I cannot stress this enough. If your child is not getting enough sleep, there’s virtually no saving their mood in the morning. For babies and young toddlers, an appropriate bedtime is usually somewhere between 6-7 PM, depending on when their nap ends. For older toddlers and young kids, I recommend somewhere between 7-7:30 PM.
2. Eliminate as many morning battles as you can. I’m speaking specifically to moms of toddlers and young kids – you know who you are. We, for example, are currently in the “I don’t want to wear anything except pajamas phase,” and it was making school mornings far too stressful. We started picking out my daughter’s outfit the night before, and this strategy has cut at least five to ten minutes of indecision and resistance out of our morning routine.
3. Checklists. Kids thrive on structure and on understanding what is expected of them. Make a checklist of the morning “to do’s” and make a game out of it to see how fast they can get it done. If there’s something they love to do in the morning, tell them they have to do one or more things on the checklist first. For example, my daughter loves to play with her kitchen. So I tell her, “Let’s get dressed and brush your teeth, and then we can play with the kitchen!” We started doing checklists at bedtime as well, and it’s drastically reduced the amount of procrastination that my toddler is capable of.
4. Create a child-friendly clock. I saw this idea on Pinterest, and I thought it was genius. The basic idea is that blocks of time are color-coded for given activities. So, for example, 6:30-7 AM could be color-coded as blue, which means “time to wake up and eat breakfast.” 7-7:30 AM could be color-coded as green, which means “time to pack lunch, brush teeth, and get dressed.” You can customize it to suit your family’s specific needs, and to get kids excited about following a routine.
5. Make weekends special. Every weekend, we let our daughter make her favorite breakfast or plan a special activity. We even stray from the rules a bit and let her do things like stay in pajamas all day. Whatever it is that your child loves to do and gets excited about, make time for it on the weekends. It will help them understand that while you may have a stricter routine on weekdays, there’s something to look forward to.
6. Make time for yourself in the morning. I know this is supposed to be a list of things to do with your kids, but how you feel in the morning is also important. I, for example, realized very quickly that I couldn’t just roll out of bed and start parenting immediately – I need a minute to wake up, have my coffee, and start my day. I started getting up before the rest of my house, and it honestly turned MY morning around, giving me the patience to handle with whatever gets thrown my way when the rest of the house wakes up.
Mahaley Patel is a certified pediatric sleep consultant. She is also a Masters Candidate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy at Pepperdine University. She is the mother to a 3-year-old daughter, Amelie, and a 13-year-old Boxer, Coco, and wife to Ravi Patel.