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Make Space For A Morning Routine

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Back in the day when I was working full time and wrangling 3 small children mornings were the worst. It was like one of those Tough Mudder races where everyone is running, there’s a ton of commotion and at the end everyone is muddy and exhausted and done for the day. Except the day is just starting. Every year old posts from those days pop up on Facebook Memories, and I can still feel the trauma all these many years later.

It was during those years that I slowly learned and then honed the strategies that led to a mostly-smooth morning routine in which everyone got out of bed, ate breakfast, got dressed, brushed teeth, gathered their things and made their way to the car on time. It took lots of trial and error and things still didn’t go perfectly every day but for the most part I could make my first meeting with time and energy to spare.

My tactics aligned nicely with James Clear’s pillars for successful habits in his book Atomic Habits. That book had not been written yet when my kids were small but reflecting back on those years I can understand why the things I did worked in the context of 3 of Clear’s pillars: Make It Easy, Make it Attractive, Make It Obvious.

The Night Before – Make it Easy

The first step in a successful morning routine does not have anything to do with your kids, it’s all about you. Think about all the small decisions that you make each morning  to get yourself ready (Workout or no? What to wear? What’s for breakfast? Packing a lunch? etc.) They are indeed small decisions but even 10 extra minutes makes a huge difference in the crazy race of the morning routine. You are going to make all of those small decisions the night before. You can make note of them on your phone if you need to (that helped me somehow, a declaration of sorts.)  The goal is to remove as much friction as possible from your own routine, the kids will provide more than enough on their own! By removing any small decisions from your morning you are making things Easy for yourself.

The Dance Party – Make It Fun

The next step is to make morning time fun for the kids. If you Hide The Vegetable’ so to speak in something they enjoy, they will participate willingly and often enthusiastically. There are many ways to accomplish this. I employed a Dance Party strategy, in which my kids grabbed their clothes and brought them to our bedroom where a curated playlist was playing. They would get dressed and brush their teeth while we were having a dance party, complete with permission to jump on Mom & Dad’s bed. My best friend also used music in her Make It Fun strategy. She played the same playlist every morning, each song was a cue to start the next activity (one song for getting up, one song for getting dressed, 2 songs for eating breakfast, one for brushing teeth. Her kids, like Pavlov’s dogs, responded to the routine because she set it to music. Another idea is the old standby of a race, with a prize for the winner. It’s likely that you will need to switch things up from time to time but the concept stays the same; make the morning routine fun.

The Breakfast Zone – Make It Obvious

As soon as you can train your kids to get their own breakfast, this takes one thing off of your plate and gives them some early agency at the same time. In order to prep your environment for success you’ll need to do a little reorganization in your kitchen. Making things obvious for the kiddos is the key here. First, find a home – preferably in a drawer that’s lower down – for all of the plastic cups, bowls and other things the kids use to eat on their own. Don’t worry about this drawer being neat, as long as everything is together you’re fine. Now take the same concept to the pantry and separate the cereal boxes, moving them to a kid-friendly accessible spot. The more obvious you make it that your kids should help themselves to breakfast, the more likely they will.

Look, even with a well-honed routine every morning isn’t going to run like clockwork, I mean we are talking about children here – they are predictably unpredictable. However, if you approach your mornings with a little forethought, whimsy and mis en scene you will have more good ones than bad – and that is something to reach for!

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