Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Making Mornings Manageable

Making sure that your child's morning routine goes smoothly will help set him up for a good day at school.

If mornings are chaotic and disorganized in your house, what can you do to make them less stressful?  

Here are some ideas that to consider:

Make sure that your child is getting enough sleep at night.  Small children need 11 to 12 hours of sleep.  Even 11 year olds need nine to ten hours.  Teenagers, it seems to me, are always short of sleep.  Because they are growing and changing so much, they require much more sleep than we think.  {If your teenager wants to sleep until noon on the weekends, perhaps you should let him.  He probably needs it.}

Chronic sleep deprivation can cause short attention span, hyperactivity, and irritability.  If your children are habitually waking up groggy, cranky, and slow to get moving, or they require an alarm clock instead of waking up naturally, they may be needing more sleep than they are getting.  Set an age appropriate bedtime, and stick to  it.  Smaller children respond to a set ritual: bath, story, song, hug and kiss, lights out.  Try a drop or two of essential oil in the bath water; according to my colleague, Catherine Traiforou Vlasto, CSW, who utilizes aroma therapy in her practice, it's also helpful to place a few drops on the child's pillow or on the soles of the feet.  Good oils for relaxation and sleep include lavender, bergamot, and geranium.

 A handful of epsom salts in the bath water draws out toxins.

If your child has a hard time transitioning to bed:

Strictly limit computer or interactive video games during the school week.  They are highly stimulating to the brain, which makes it difficult to relax and drift off directly after playing with them.  I would suggest that screen time end a minimum of two hours before bedtime.

Remove all electronic games, computers, and televisions from the child's bedroom.

Reduce the amount of clutter and visual distractions in the child's room.

Turn out lights completely.

If your child has respiration problems, snores at night, or is chronically stuffy, this is probably interfering with his ability to sleep deeply enough.  An air purifier, allergy testing, or a consult with an ENT may be in order.  Make sure there is fresh air in the child's room.  Pajamas and bedding should be made from natural fabrics.

Make certain that your child has plenty of exercise and time outside every single day.  Don't you sleep better when you've had a good work out, or have spent the day outside doing chores in the garden?  So will your child.  Unless you live in Alaska or norther Minnesota and the weather is ridiculously cold, so cold that breathing the air will damage his lungs, your child needs to be outside for a good amount of time every single day.   I grew up in the Midwest, where it was plenty cold and snowy.  Starting in kindergarten, unless there was a tornado or an ice storm, I walked half a mile to school and back,  plus home for lunch and back, and went outside for recess twice a day as well.  

If your child's school has a policy of keeping the children indoors at the first sign of cold or drizzle, what can you do to change it?

To alleviate the morning rush and reduce stress, try to organize as much as possible the night before.

 Choose clothing the night before and lay it out.  {Have your child do this, or do it together, so that he can't complain that he doesn't like your choices.}

Make lunches the night before.

Gather together homework and any special items needed for the  next day and put them together the night before.

Have high protein, nutritious, but easy options for available for breakfast, like nut butter on whole grain toast with sliced bananas, string cheese with whole grain crackers, hard boiled eggs, a handful of dried or fresh fruit and a handful of walnuts or almonds, yogurt with almonds or walnuts mixed in,  mochi, or steel cut oats that you have made the night before and can heat up.  {Note that most of the options listed above are also easy to grab and go.}

One little boy I treated, whose parents were at their wits' end because he would honestly forget that he was supposed to be hurrying to get ready in the mornings and would lie in the bathtub and start dreaming, did better when he switched to showers.  He also initiated a schedule for the mornings, and managed to stick to it.

If your older child won't take responsibility for organizing his things or being on time, perhaps it's time to stop enabling him and to allow him to suffer the consequences of being late or for not having his work or his gym attire.  A few humiliating run ins with his teachers or his principal will teach him to be more on top of his game.

Remember that your child will carry whatever happens in the mornings to school along with him.  If he's had a calm morning, he will have a better chance at staying calm at school.  If he's had a hectic, stressful morning, with his parents losing their tempers and yelling, that's what he will be taking with him for the day.

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