Confession: I don’t ‘do’ mornings. When my kids were toddlers I taught them the number 8 on the clock – it’s an easy number to learn ( two circles). They would hop into bed next to me and ‘read’ (stack of books next to the bed) or chatter and snuggle. As soon as the number 8 clicked over, they would be all, ‘Mama! It’s number eight!’ And I’d rouse from my semi conscious state (you can never actually sleep when kids are awake) and it was ‘on’ for the day.
As they grew, I learnt to ‘do’ mornings and be places on time and I would be up early to help them transition from sleep and start the day calmly (mostly). It’s no fun starting the day stressed out because if mama is stressed, you can bet the kids will be too: not only are children like little mood barometers registering every bit of our own stress, but complying with an adult schedule, complete with blaring alarm and mayhem and disaster in the wider world (on television news – just leave it off!), as well as a chaotic household, can be so overwhelming that it is likely to affect your child’s learning and behaviour (think clingy/ whiny/ stroppy – and who can bear to face a day that starts like that?).
While we learn very quickly how helpful a calming bed-time routine is to encourage restful sleep, we don’t always consider that waking is also a major transition. And if we are staggering around in a morning stupor, struggling to get kids out the door, it could be the last thought in our minds to worry how the sensory experience of waking affects little ones. Yet, by creating a gentle beginning to the day, stress levels can plummet – for you and your child.
Mornings with a baby
If you only have one baby, especially if your baby is a newborn, please don’t feel pressured to implement a rigid routine. Your baby will develop a natural pattern of feeding and sleeping and it’s less stressful to create a rhythm around your baby’s needs than forcing him to feed or sleep to fit your schedule. I have visited distressed mums with babies just a few weeks old who are upset because their babies won’t wake up to start a routine on time, even when they have only been fed an hour or two earlier. If your baby is sleeping and you don’t need to care for other children or get anywhere on time, please be kind to yourself.
You can enjoy some extra rest and start your day when your baby wakes or you can get a head start on your day while your baby sleeps. For instance, you can enjoy an uninterrupted shower and breakfast, do a few chores, or prepare dinner and start your slow cooker to avoid late afternoon arsenic hour with an unsettled baby as you wonder what’s for dinner, whether you are based at home or you have returned to a workplace. If you have a baby and older children, it can be easier to wear your baby in a carrier or wrap as you make breakfast and help bigger kids get ready for the day, especially if they have to get to kinder or school.
- Move your bed-time back: If you aren’t a ‘morning’ person, try shifting your own bedtime back half an hour or so (gradually), so you can ‘ease yourself awake’ (if your sanity depends on ‘me time’ late at night, skip this bit – just keep the alarm volume low so yours are the only ‘assaulted’ senses).
- A special morning greeting: Gently welcome your child from the womb-like world of sleep with a special greeting: If you have a nice singing voice (or your child is more forgiving than mine!!), sing a morning song or play some calming, cheerful music.
- Morning ‘me time’: Create a special place to greet the morning before your children wake – with a cuppa, and perhaps journaling or some yoga or meditation. If your children are up as early as you (or before) why not do some yoga or a meditation together, have cuddles and connect with some positive chatter in your bed or go outside and greet the day. Perhaps you could take a morning walk if you have pre -schoolers – children are more likely to play quietly after they have run off the ‘ants in their pants’).
- A morning surprise: If you are a morning zombie and need to begin your day more gradually, why not set up an activity the night before so little ones can start playing with their ‘surprise’ – a few dress-ups and a mirror; stickers and scrapbook; playdough with cutters and some dried noodles to use as ‘candles’; blocks and little people, animals or cars. If you are feeling creative, a pretend shop or hair salon will intrigue them for ages and a healthy snack and drink in a lidded cup could buy you a peaceful cuppa or uninterrupted time to make breakfast or feed the baby.
- Screen Free: Please avoid dulling little senses by propping tiny tots in front of screens as soon as they wake or letting older kids play on tablets. This not only sets the scene for meltdowns when you switch off screens but can affect concentration and learning for school aged children.
- Prepare the night before: Write the notes/ make the lunches/ fill the water bottles/ lay out the clothes/ sports gear etc. Plonk everything you need in a spot by the door -you can’t forget it, if it ‘s right where you will trip over it!
- Create rituals: dressing, hair-brushing, teeth cleaning and parting for school or work are opportunities for creating your own special rituals.
- Eat breakfast together: the connection of sharing a meal puts everyone in a positive mood and a healthy breakfast will keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the morning, improving moods (yours and the kids!), concentration and learning.
- Top up their love tanks: give your kids special morning hugs and make eye contact as you tell them how much you love them. As you send them off to school, or head off to work yourself, tell them “have fun”, rather than, “be good” or “do well” –the confidence and security they feel will fill their little love tanks and set them up for a positive day.
Pinky McKay is a mum of five, an IBCLC lactation consultant and the best selling author of ‘Parenting by Heart’, ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ and ‘Toddler Tactics’ check out Pinky’s books here and download FREE the first chapter of Sleeping Like a Baby HERE