Beating the morning rush with your child
Do you find yourself stressed out before you even start your day? Chances are your child is too. Not only are children like little mood barometers, registering every bit of our own stress, but complying with an adult schedule, complete with blaring alarm clock, and mayhem and disaster on television news, as well as a chaotic household, can be so overwhelming that it is likely to affect your child’s learning and behaviour. Think clingy/whiny/stroppy – and who can bear to face a day that starts like that?
While we are usually prepared to acknowledge the benefits of a gentle bedtime rhythm, we don’t always consider that waking is also a major transition, or how the sensory experience of waking affects little ones – among our list of morning tasks, there’s barely time! Yet, by creating a gentle beginning to the day, stress levels can plummet – for you and your child.
If you only have one baby, especially if your baby is a newborn, please don't feel pressured to implement a rigid routine. Your baby will develop a natural pattern of feeding and sleeping and it’s less stressful to create a rhythm around your baby’s needs than forcing him or her to feed or sleep to fit your schedule. I have visited distressed mums with babies just a few weeks old who are upset because their babies won’t wake up to start a routine on time, even when they have only been fed an hour or two earlier. If your baby is sleeping and you don’t need to care for other children or get anywhere on time, please be kind to yourself.
You can enjoy some extra rest and start your day when your baby wakes or you can get a head start on your day while your baby sleeps. For instance, you can enjoy an uninterrupted shower and breakfast, do a few chores, or prepare dinner and start your slow cooker to avoid a late afternoon with an unsettled baby as you wonder what’s for dinner. If you have a baby and older children, it can be easier to wear your baby in a carrier or wrap as you make breakfast and help bigger kids get ready for the day, especially if they have to get to kindergarten or school.
If you have older children, here are some tips for smoother mornings:
- If you aren’t a ‘morning person’, try shifting your own bedtime back half an hour or so (gradually), so you can ‘ease yourself awake’. If your sanity depends on reading late at night, skip this bit – just keep the alarm volume low so yours are the only ‘assaulted’ senses.
- Gently welcome your child from the womb-like world of sleep with a special greeting. If you have a nice singing voice (or your child is more forgiving than mine!), sing a morning song or play some gentle, cheerful music.
- Create a special place to greet the morning before your children wake – with a cuppa, some yoga or a meditation. If your children are up as early as you (or before) why not do some yoga or a meditation together, have cuddles and connect with some positive chatter in your bed, or go outside and greet the day. Perhaps you could take a morning walk if you have pre -schoolers - children are more likely to play quietly after they have run off the ‘ants in their pants’).
- If this sounds a bit too idealistic (or if, like me, you don’t ‘do’ mornings very well), why not set up an activity the night before so little ones can start playing with their ‘surprise’ – a few dress-ups and a mirror, stickers and scrapbook, playdough with cutters and some dried noodles to use as ‘candles’, blocks and little people, animals or cars. If you are feeling creative, a pretend shop or hair salon will intrigue them for ages and a healthy snack and drink in a lidded cup could buy you a quiet cuppa or uninterrupted time to make breakfast or feed the baby.
- Please avoid dulling little senses by propping tiny tots in front of screens as soon as they wake. This not only sets the scene for meltdowns when you switch off screens but can affect concentration and learning for school aged children.
- If you have to leave the house early for work or school, avoid a mad morning rush by preparing the night before – write the notes/ make the lunches/ fill the water bottles/ lay out the clothes/ sports gear etc. Plonk everything you need in a spot by the door -you can’t forget it, if it ‘s right where you will trip over it!
- Create rituals around dressing, hair brushing, teeth cleaning and parting for school or work.
- Make an effort to eat breakfast together. The connection of sharing a meal puts everyone in a positive mood and a healthy breakfast will keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the morning, improving moods, concentration and learning.
- Give your kids special morning hugs and make eye contact as you tell them how much you love them. As you send them off to school, or head off to work yourself, tell them, ‘have fun, rather than, ‘be good’ or ‘do well’ –the confidence and security they feel will nurture their spirits and help them soar.
Pinky McKay is the best selling author of ‘Parenting by Heart’, ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ and ‘Toddler Tactics’. Visit her website and check out her seminars and blog.