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For most families of school age kids, mornings include television or DVDs or a tablet. The kids get up – sometimes before the parents do, sometimes, groggily, when called – and either entertain themselves or wake themselves fully while parked in front of a screen.

They might take a break for breakfast or they might eat while viewing. They might dress in front of the TV or put the program on pause and hurry to dress and get back to the show.  And their parents do exactly the same.

In between getting the children started on the day, Mom and Dad get their own day started with a check of Facebook, a check of the weather or traffic report, a check of their bank balance, or a scan of the news. Between the coffee and the walk to the bus stop, a lot of electronic engagement takes place.  Screens have become part of the early morning ritual, for parents as well as for children.

This makes pulling the plug on electronics even more difficult. We grownups like our quiet time, enjoying our screens along with our coffee, and we don’t think we’re ready to parent full time just yet. But our screen habit might be getting the day off to the wrong start.

Studies have shown that most small children watch between two-and-a-half and five hours of television or other electronic entertainment a day. That’s an awful lot. But we don’t even notice the hours spent because they are hours we also are connected to something else – our work or our own screens – and we are happy for the peace and quiet.

The more television children watch, the less exercise they get, the more connected they are to advertising, the more they snack, and the smaller their vocabularies and ability to think. The research is pretty clear: television and other screen-based entertainment add nothing to young children’s quality of life and, in fact, detract from it.

I’m not suggesting that you do away with TV altogether. I recognize that’s impractical for most families. But I am suggesting that you keep it off – and keep off computers, handhelds, and phones – until after school and after work. Yes, I’m including you in this. I’ll give you a quick check of the weather and the traffic report but that’s all. Break the habit.

What are you likely to find? After a bit of a withdrawal, perhaps, you’ll find that you and your children have time you never dreamed of in the mornings. There’s time to play and do things that wasn’t there before. If you like, you and your child can read together, but remember that keeping your child busy isn’t your responsibility. Don’t replace one entertainment – a screen – with another – you.

You likely will find that the entire family is more calm, more centered, and less stressed in the mornings. There’s not the pull of a screen to distract us from each other and mesmerize us. The trick is to not give up and give in. Stick with this. Breaking a habit is hard.

The reward is a better beginning to the day. Try it!

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

If getting everyone up and out the door on time is becoming more and more difficult every day, you’re justified in feeling frustrated and angry.

But you’ve probably also noticed that yelling at the kids and nagging them isn’t working. It doesn’t get the day launched happily and it makes you feel worse, not better. So what can you do differently? How can you quit being a witch and still get the children to the bus stop on time?


A good start to the day begins the night before. The time to finish homework is before going to bed, not after getting up from it. Make it a habit (for you) to check on homework well before bedtime to make certain that nothing’s been forgotten. Evening also is the time to check the backpack for notes that need your signature and to inquire about what’s going on at school the next day. The time to find out about the field trip to a marsh for which boots and gloves will be needed is well before the morning light.


In addition, the night before is when you need to know about issues your child might have about clothes for the next day (is it school spirit day and the only shirt in a school color is in the wash?) or about a broken zipper on her jacket and other issues. Make it a habit, as the day winds down, to talk over the next day with your child in time for her to remember what she’s going to need or want. If it helps you, create a checklist:

Ask your child to set out his backpack and other things needed for school the next day. If your has troubled deciding what to wear in the morning, help him to make his choices at night and lay out clothes, ready to go, the evening before.

Make certain kids get to bed and turn off the light early enough to allow for enough sleep before morning. Children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep throughout the elementary school  years and teens need nine to 10 hours. Many children don’t get all the sleep they need, and this makes it very hard for them to wake up on time and feel alert and ready.

In the morning, make certain you and your kids get up with plenty of time to do what needs to be done before the day begins. This includes dressing and breakfasting, of course, but it might also include walking the dog, feeding the cat, brushing snow off the car, and other routine tasks. If you’re always rushed, you might just need more time. Get up early enough to have time for what is needed.

Keep off distracting electronics. Make it a rule that the television and computer stay off, tablets and handhelds put away until after the kids are dressed and fed, brushed and organized, ready to go. This has the double advantage of limiting distractions to necessary tasks and also adding an incentive to accomplish tasks efficiently.

Give everyone a couple minutes’ warning ahead of the actual out-the-door moment. Set a timer to beep at the right time and then reset it for two minutes later. Kids tend to obey the impersonal sound of a timer better than your own voice.

Finally, factor in the time needed to actually get going. You know this isn’t instantaneous! Depending on the weather, children may need more or less time to get their coats and boots on. If you’ve got everything ready the night before, no one will need to hunt for essentials. But kids – especially preschoolers – need time to pull on their jackets and zip them up. Give them the time they need to do it themselves if they must.

Once you’ve got things down to a routine, your mornings will flow like a gentle breeze. Get the day off right for everyone with a little planning and care.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.