Ask: How to make mornings less manic

Orenstein Solutions is located in Cary.
Orenstein Solutions is located in Cary.

Q: Our weekday mornings are crazy! My third-grader and I have arguments about his wearing shorts in the winter and my pre-teen daughter gets mad at me because I ask her to tell me her post-school plans. That's just the beginning. Then the kids don't want to eat their breakfast. My son, who has ADHD, often brings up homework we didn't talk about the night before and hands me sheets of paper to sign. Sometimes I'm so frustrated I "lose it," and then we all have a bad start to the day. Is there anything we can do other than count the days until they graduate from high school?

A: What you describe is not an uncommon scenario. Many families struggle to have things run smoothly in the morning. As you mention, stressful mornings are miserable and can lead to unnecessary conflicts between parents and children. However, by taking certain steps, parents can help reduce chaos, reduce their own stress, and help their family to work as an efficient team in the morning!

Take stock of the situation. Before making any changes, it is important for parents to be aware of what is and is not going well in the mornings. This awareness is crucial in determining what changes need to be made in order to improve your family’s morning routine. Pick one week in which to observe the behaviors of family members during the morning. Take note of what goes well and what does not. Also, pay attention to your own emotional state (i.e., when you get stressed or “lose it”), noting when and where things tend to fall apart. You can even talk to your son and daughter each night about their experiences to get additional information about how to change things in a way that will meet everyone’s needs (as much as possible, that is).

Prepare using a 10/10 Plan: Preparing for possible “bumps” will help limit the disruption they may cause. Consider instituting a 10/10 routine, with 10 minutes of planning the night before and 10 extra minutes of getting ready in the morning. Here’s how this works. . .

The night before. . . Recognize the value of getting organized the night before. Help your children lay out their clothes, finish homework, pack their book bags, prepare lunches and discuss their after-school schedule.The morning of. . . Waking children up 10 minutes earlier will help everyone feel less rushed and frantic in the morning. Regarding breakfast, plan out what you are going to serve, talk to your kids the night before, and outline some basic expectations about what constitutes a “good enough” breakfast.

Give up power struggles: It is important for parents to identify the most important issues to address with their children and then try to “not sweat the small stuff.” Parents can ask themselves, “Is this worth the argument?” and “Is this the best time to address this?” If it is not a safety issue and is something relatively minor, tell your child that you’ll make time to discuss it in the evening, when you can take the time to communicate calmly and clearly. As a parent, this will reduce your stress and buy you more time to organize your thoughts.

Stay calm: Morning routines can be stressful. Therefore, it is important to develop and use some strategies to help you stay calm and collected. This can include breathing exercises (e.g., diaphragmatic breathing), meditation, and use of coping skills (e.g., calming music or exercise in the morning). If you feel close to “losing it,” then this is the cue to use some of these skills. This may require taking a few minutes away from the children to be in a quiet place. Once you are calm, you are better able to tackle the morning. Furthermore, your calmness may be “infectious,” setting the tone for everyone’s day.

Good luck!

Dr. Daniel Sheras is a clinical psychologist at Orenstein Solutions in Cary. He provides psychological services to children, teens and families to address ADHD, anxiety and depression, and family issues. Contact

Orenstein Solutions

at (919) 428-2766 ext. 0 for more information.

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