By Samantha Critchell ~ The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- At the dawn of every new day, families start with a clean slate. Yesterday's fights about wearing a coat to school and wanting ice cream for breakfast are forgotten and there is an opportunity to have a peaceful and smooth-running morning.
Seize that chance, says Carol Baicker-McKee, author of "Fussbusters At Home: Around-the-Clock Strategies and Games for Smoothing the Rough Spots in Your Preschooler's Day" (Peachtree Publishers).
There are several things parents can do to get the day off on the right note -- and get preschoolers out the door on time. And by fostering a non-stressful environment, parents will even see improvement in some areas that are seemingly unrelated, such as separation anxiety or sleeplessness, says Baicker-McKee.
"Kids might dawdle or actively resist the morning routine because they don't want to separate from you when they're done," she explains, and the thought of the dreaded morning might cloud their thoughts at bedtime.
But, notes Baicker-McKee, a family and child therapist and former day care and preschool teacher, sometimes all the fuss is for show as the toddlers learn the power of manipulation. Once a parent drops the children at school or day care, the crying and whining very often stops within five minutes.
Step 1 for parents is to prioritize. The main goals should be making sure everyone is fed, dressed and has everything packed for the day, advises Baicker-McKee, the mother of three children in Pittsburgh.
"Let go of your expectations for perfection," she advises. If the children's outfits aren't perfectly color-coordinated, it's OK; if they go out without the greatest hairstyle, that's OK, too.
Also, Baicker-McKee suggests reducing the number of choices. Put entire outfits in plastic bags and let the kids choose if they want to wear the blue one or the red one. The same idea works for meals, offering two choices for breakfast and two that could be packed for lunch.
While you're at it, Baicker-McKee encourages parents to create separate bags filled with all the equipment for specific activities so that on "art day" at school they have their smocks and paints, and on "gym day" they have sneakers and a clean T-shirt.
The next big step is to get in the habit of beginning the morning at night.
Watch the weather report on television with your children and then choose every single item for the next day's outfit together -- and make sure both parent and children approve it, Baicker-McKee says. Compromise might be called for: If a child is willing to wear clothes that fit properly, are weather-appropriate and are comfortable, ignore the fact that they won't land anyone on a best-dressed list.
If it will help, children can even put on their next-day socks or T-shirt before they go to bed.
For children who are early risers, parents can prepare the night before an easy-to-do breakfast, such as pre-measuring cold cereal into a bowl and leaving it -- along with the milk -- within a child's reach in the refrigerator. Feeling independent and accomplished will do wonders for a child's development, Baicker-McKee says.
And, she says, go through the same routine every day. For the same reasons they like to wear the same shirt five days in a row, they like to get up at the same time, eat the same foods and carry the same lunch box.
To avoid last-minute negotiations, have clocks or thermometers or any other inanimate force make as many "rules" as possible, Baicker-McKee suggests.
Mark the thermometer so that children know once the mercury hits a certain level, they have to wear a jacket outside. This trick also works with clocks but they also have to be marked with something such as tape or stickers because many preschoolers can't identify numerals or tell time.
It's also OK just to have preset, nonnegotiable rules, according to Baicker-McKee. "The more things are 'just the way they are,' the less resistance there is," she says.
But, she adds, since children don't like surprises, outline the days, the rules and the routines on a giant monthly dry-erase calendar. "Kids love to cross off the days, and they love to know ahead of time what's coming up."
She suggests keeping the calendar visual, with a lot of easily identifiable pictures.
The last step toward getting out the door is a pit stop at "the place," the spot in the house that from preschool through high school a child can store and later pick up all the things needed for the day ahead.
So, realistically, how much time do parents need to get their toddlers and preschoolers out the door?
"How much time you think you need, plus a half-hour," says Baicker-McKee.