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Streamline Your Morning Routine

Eight ways to get out the door on time and unstressed

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Mornings are difficult for many families, but families of children with special needs face more challenges than most. Kids need extra help, parents are extra exhausted, and if tempers get short and stress gets high, meltdowns are sure to follow. For kids who only have a limited amount of control to spend throughout the day, a bad morning can lead directly into a bad day at school. How to prevent that? Here are some ideas for getting your family's day off to a smoother start.

1. Do everything the night before.

Make lunches. Take showers. Account for all homework and other school-bound material. Write notes to the teacher. Load backpacks. Set the table for breakfast. Get the coffeemaker ready to perk at the push of a button. Lay out clothes. If some kids have particular problems getting dressed when sleepy or under pressure, let them sleep in their school clothes. Leave as little to do in the morning as you possibly can.

2. Put early risers to work.

If you're lucky enough to have a morning person in the family, give him or her special jobs to do in exchange for special rewards. Have wide-awake kids put lunches in backpacks, put backpacks in the car, prepare breakfast foods, wake up siblings, help younger siblings with clothes -- and, if you're not such a morning person yourself, push that button on the coffeemaker and bring you a nice hot cup.

3. Make a list.

If you're constantly forgetting important steps in the morning and having to race around completing them when you should be leaving, make a big list and post it in a prominent place. Check off the items as you go. Make each child check his or her own list -- or, if you have a morning-organized child, put him or her in charge of checking off and checking up.

4. Use TV as a bribe.

TV may be the root of all evil, but it's also highly motivating for most kids. Tell your little slugabed he can watch TV if he gets up. Then, when she's sitting on the couch watching her favorite show, bring out her clothes and tell her she can keep watching as long as she's getting dressed. If even the bribe doesn't work, and your child is small enough to carry, dump him or her out in front of the TV and see if Big Bird can do the waking up.

5. Don't preach, don't teach.

If you want to teach your child to tie shoes or button a shirt, do it some other time, when you're both relaxed and unhurried. In the morning, provide as much help as needed to keep everyone moving. If kids don't keep it moving to your satisfaction, discuss it later at a family meeting. Lectures waste time and raise stress.

6. Take breakfast easy.

If you want your kids to have a hot breakfast, try microwave entrees that take just a couple of minutes. There's also nothing at all wrong with cold cereal or yogurt. Leftovers from dinner can make a quick, if unusual breakfast. Best of all, try handheld items that you can, if necessary, take in the car with you. A granola bar and a bottle of water may not exactly be the breakfast of champions, but it might be the breakfast of the no-longer-tardy.

7. Make peace with the things you can't make time for.

If mornings are unbearably hectic, see if you can live without brushed teeth, combed hair, properly tucked-in shirts, washed hands, scrubbed faces, pulled-up socks, washed dishes, made beds, put-away PJs. Give kids who can get it done a little reward if you like, but for those who can't, don't make a big deal.

8. Remember that this is a "whatever works" situation.

Your solutions don't have to be pretty, they don't have to represent an ideal world, they don't have to be enriching or indicative in any way of your hopes or aspirations for your child's future abilities. They just have to get you out the door.
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