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How to Make Your Family Mornings Less Stressful

Hey, parents and kids: Sick of the morning madness? Make it a calmer – or at least less angry! – routine with these five smart and simple tips.

When your kids begin to pout, wail, shout or cry in the wee, before-school hours, put on your full parent armor and remember: There is another way.

I wanted my children to learn how to make safe – and sane – choices. Yet when you are crunched for time, it's difficult. There is, however, a win-win solution, with a little patience and foresight in planning. Here are five ways parents can stop the morning madness, while allowing kids the chance to learn good decision-making skills.

1. Plenty of rest is best

In our home, mornings flow with greater ease when we all get enough sleep – especially me. There's nothing worse than waking up late and having to hurry. Tempers flare, usually ending in a shower of tears and tantrums that only cause me to be even later.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, young children need 11-13 hours of sleep, and school-age kids 10-11 hours. Everyone knows adults need at least eight good hours of sleep or we also struggle during the day. For everyone's sake, establish early bedtime routines and stick to them as much as possible.

2. The breakfast blitz

I'm all for a good breakfast. But when I ask my kids what they want, answers vary from "Scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and biscuits," to "Can we stop by the doughnut place like the last time you were in a hurry?"

There is a healthier way. For my older kids, providing easy-to-fix frozen breakfasts did the trick. Simple meals can be pre-made over the weekend or pre-purchased. Breakfast burritos, pancakes, waffles, biscuits and sausage all freeze rather easily and can be popped into the microwave for quick heating.

Younger children need choices a little more focused. Offer healthy options that fit your parenting parameters. Try: "Would you like Cheerios or Wheaties?" or "Would you like your eggs scrambled or sunny-side up?" Even young children get the satisfaction of making a choice, and you are able to provide a good breakfast that fits your time limits.

3. Dressing for success

If your children are still young but seeking more influence over what they wear, try my pseudo-decision-making idea. Set up five shoeboxes in a dresser drawer. In each, add everything needed to complete an outfit, from socks to bows. After breakfast, your child can go to her room and pick out which box-outfit she wants. This gives her some control, yet allows you to make sure everything is matched and weather-appropriate. Win-win.

Until fourth grade. Then, you're going to have to settle for general rules. Clothes must be clean, not stained and not too torn (there is a fine line between fashionable tearing and clothing that makes a child look like a derelict; teach them your standard.). Most items in the outfit must match. And clothing must be right for the season.

You can add or subtract your own rules, but establishing them – and no deviating – goes a long way in cutting the morning debates.

4. Picture perfect mornings

My son was notorious for getting distracted by shiny objects and the puppy. Playing didn't bother me too much. But I needed him to get his own business done first.

Working in the education system often used with special needs kids helped me keep my wayward son on task. I set up a poster-board chart with two vertical Velcro strips on the front. Dividing the chart into two columns, labeled them "Do" and "Done," gave him a visual of what was expected of him.

I printed up small pictures of things he needed to "Do," like "get dressed," "put on shoes," "brush teeth and hair," "eat breakfast," "make bed," "check backpack" and "make your lunch." These pix were cut into small squares, laminated and also secured with Velcro. Finally, I stuck magnet strips to the back of the poster and hung the chart on the refrigerator.

I told him once his entire list was finished and all the pictures were in the "Done" column, he could play with the puppy. Now a tween, he automatically gets up and follows those tasks before he plays on his Wii or with the dog. I no longer need to remind him; they have become a habit.

5. The launch pad

Setting up a bench or sturdy hooks on the wall provides a neat place to set backpacks, coats and other needed items. A space near the door that everyone leaves from is ideal.

The last-minute hunt irritated me so much, I trained myself to get everything I needed for the next day ready the night before. It was hard: I'm so tired by evening, all I want to do is sit zombie-like in front of the TV. Yet establishing the routine of thinking about tomorrow and preparing for it really helps avoid wasting time trying to find misplaced stuff.

Monitor to be sure all homework is done and replaced in notebooks. Bedtime routine is a great time to check the backpacks and make lunch for the next day. Once everything is in place, set them in the launch pad area – and everyone is good to go the next morning.

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