So, you think nightmares only happen at night?

Not according to Becky, mother of three, who says that school mornings are all too often a nightmare of sorts at her house.

How does a perfectly good school morning turn into a nightmare?

Start with a child who won’t get out of bed, no matter how many warnings you give. Then add a touch of arguing about which cereal to have for breakfast, all of which she liked yesterday but none of which she seems to like today. Follow that up with a dash of “I hate all of my clothes,” and you have a morning that makes mom want to crawl back into bed.

There are a variety of reasons that mornings can wreak havoc on your sanity, including kids not getting enough sleep, having tactile sensitivity (results in clothing challenges), a lack of morning structure, inconsistent discipline, and just plain old bad habits.

If mornings are making you think that bedtime can’t come soon enough, here are some tips for regaining control of your mornings and turning them into a pleasant start of a great day.

1. Clear expectations. Sit down with your kids and let them know that mornings need an overhaul. Make your expectations simple and clear. For example, you expect your kids to:

-Get out of bed when asked

-Do their morning tasks properly

-Be respectful to each other

-Listen to mom and dad

-Have a great morning.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to print this list out and place it on your refrigerator for easy reference.

2. Simplify. One key to a better morning is to simplify it. If there are tasks that can be done the night before, then make that happen. For instance, I know kids who get their backpack entirely ready (zipped up and placed by the front door), make their lunch, and set out their clothes the night before. This leaves much less to do and argue about in the morning.

3. Create a simple routine. You can design your mornings any way you want to, but design them you must. Sit down with your kids (elementary aged and older) and get their input in designing your morning routine, however, you have the final say. There really are not that many fundamental morning tasks, so the routine does not need to be complicated. Having a routine helps establish a sense of order and predictability, which, in case you forgot, is the opposite of chaos. Here is a sample school morning routine:

1) Get up (go to bathroom).

2) Get dressed.

3) Eat breakfast (put dishes away).

4) Brush teeth/hair and do other bathroom tasks.

5) Put backpack by the door (could be done the night before).

6) Quiet free time activity (if there is time).

4. Set a fun morning goal. I’m a fan of making positive behavior fun. Set a goal for five good mornings. Every time you have a smooth morning, mark a star on a calendar. When your kids reach five stars, reward them with a fun activity, such as a special breakfast or a fun family activity. Let them know that you are proud of them for their great effort and then set a new goal for another fun activity.

5. Enforce the morning rules. Just as positive rewards are helpful in building new habits, negative consequences are often needed to break bad habits. One of my favorite negative consequences for inappropriate morning behavior is the adjustment of bedtime. If your child is too “tired” to make good morning decisions, then he or she clearly needs an earlier bedtime. This can be done in several ways. One is to make an overall bedtime adjustment (30 minutes earlier) which can be revisited if she displays consistently improved morning behavior. The other is to have your child earn 10 minutes of early bed for that night each time she behaves negatively in the morning.

Morning times do not have to be a nightmare for your family. Try these ideas and start turning mornings into the best part of your day.

What strategies have you found helpful in the mornings?

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