Mornings are always a hectic time. But when my almost-3-year-old daughter started preschool, I discovered a whole new world of a.m. stress.
Getting a kid out the door on a deadline, while also making sure I was presentable and ready for work, was an adventure in frustration. In fact, I discovered that she wasn’t the only one capable of a meltdown — I was, too! My meltdowns don’t involve crying or rolling on the floor, but they do involve sighing, yelling, and the occasional carry-screaming-child-to-the-car moment.
The good news is that over a year of trial and error, I learned how to avoid the "Mommy Meltdown." Here are the ways I created a stress-free morning with my now 4-year-old:
1. Delegate the tasks that stress you out.
When my daughter started preschool, I had no idea what to pack for lunch. Sandwiches seemed monotonous and unhealthy, but elaborate Bento box lunches were way too much work.
So I delegated that task to my husband. He was already packing his lunch for work, so I knew he could easily pack hers. I do still prep small containers of fruits and veggies for him on Sunday nights, but even if I don’t, I know he'll put together a meal that is satisfying and reasonably healthy.
Now all I have to do is put the lunchbox in my girl’s little hand as we leave!
2. Have your children stay in their room until an alarm rings.
My daughter has never been an early riser, for which I am eternally grateful. However, when she started preschool, I noticed that whenever she did get up early, our mornings were more stressful.
To reduce that stress, I told her to stay in her room until her alarm clock lights up at 7:30 a.m. She can get out of bed and play quietly if she wakes before the alarm, she just can’t leave her room.
When she got up before her clock, I was kind to her, but I refused to play with her or get her breakfast. I explained that I would be available to her as soon as her clock turned green. Once she learned that she would be playing by herself no matter what, she adapted fairly quickly.
This rule gives me a nice guaranteed window of time for myself in the morning, which leads to my next point:
3. Take care of yourself first.
I hate getting up early. I am a night owl, and left to my own devices, I won’t get up before 8 a.m. But the benefits of waking early outweigh my personal preferences! So to sustain a 6:30 a.m. wake-up time, I always make sure I'm in bed by 10 p.m. every night.
I also check my calendar before bed so I can plan my outfit and pack my car the night before. I make sure I'm 100 percent ready to walk out the door by 7:30 a.m., just as my daughter wakes up. Doing so allows me to give her my undivided attention — and attention is often the best way to prevent tantrums and other bad behavior!
4. Create a routine for your child.
Not only do routines allow us to build good habits, but toddlers and preschoolers love them! So using simple repetition, I’ve taught my daughter a morning routine.
A more crafty mom probably would have created a great visual chart with stickers, but I stuck to simply telling her the list of six tasks every morning, like "make your bed" and "brush your teeth."
Kids are quick learners, and, after about three weeks, I was able to just say “Go do your things” and she knew exactly what I meant.
Giving your child a routine serves two purposes:
- It ensures that your kids won’t forget essential tasks like tooth-brushing or wearing underwear.
- Instead of telling your kids every single action to take, you can just say “Do your routine,” saving yourself time and emotional energy.
5. Build in extra time.
This is by far the most important step, and there are two ways to find that extra time:
- Plan to arrive at school at the beginning of the drop-off period. Most schools have at least a 10-minute window for drop-off, so that’s 10 minutes of cushion.
- Build in time for disasters. Time your worst-case-disaster morning: changing clothes, spilling milk, having a tantrum. Now, plan to use that amount of time every morning. Adding up the drive, the dressing and feeding routines, and a full-blown tantrum gave me a time of 90 minutes. So for a 9 a.m. start time, my daughter gets up at 7:30 a.m.
6. Avoid conflict as much as possible.
Conflict takes time and energy— and both of those are in short supply in the morning.
So in order to avoid arguments, I prep my daughter's clothes before she dresses herself. Shorts and T-shirts disappear when the weather gets cold and sweatshirts disappear when it warms up. When I notice that a skirt is too short or a piece of clothing is stained or ripped, I wait until that evening when she takes it off and then I quietly remove it. Prepping her clothes sidesteps any conflict over clothing, because nothing available to her is inappropriate.
Food is also often a serious battleground. Personally, my parenting philosophy is that she'll eat when she’s hungry — so if she chooses not to eat breakfast, I allow it. After all, she gets a midmorning snack at preschool. And if she wants something weird for breakfast like pickles or cold pasta, I give it to her. There’s no need to make our children conform to arbitrary food traditions — especially if it's going to create conflict first thing in the morning.
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