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Unfrazzled families: 3 ways to a fun, functional household

March 27, 2013 at 11:24 AM ET

Homework hassles, schedule snafus, beastly bedrooms and bedtime battles…why does it seem like you spend every day reacting to your family’s latest natural disaster? You’ve always known kids can be a challenge, but nothing could’ve prepared you for the landslide of missing shoes, dirty dishes and bungled carpool schedules you face daily — and that’s even before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee.

It seems that raising a family goes hand-in-hand with running ragged as you cross town to make it to sports practices, scouting meetings and music lessons; keep up with school projects; and somehow find time to fix dinner. So how do you hang on to your sanity — not to mention empty the dishwasher, get your kids to bed on time, and all the rest?

Instead of getting frustrated, get savvy, with these strategies that will not only help the household run more smoothly now, but also prepare kids to live a less frazzled life when they’re out on their own. Within a few days you can be ready for the most common mini-disasters that may come your way, and you’ll soon be seeing the sun shine again as the fun, functional home you’ve been dreaming of comes into focus.

Amy McCready
Courtesy Amy McCready
Amy McCready

Know the routine—and stick to it. You know those pesky things that you have to nag your children about on a daily basis—like taking a shower or studying spelling words? Put the responsibility squarely on your kids’ shoulders by building them into a When-Then Routine. With your kids’ input, set up a routine for each tricky time of the day (mornings, after school and bedtimes, for instance) and structure them so the “yucky” stuff gets finished before the good stuff can happen.

To get started, let your kids know what’s expected of them (give young kids a chart to help them follow along), practice the routine, then refrain from reminding. Simply say, “When your teeth are brushed and your back pack is by the door, then you can enjoy TV time until the bus arrives.” Or, “When you’ve brushed your teeth, put on your pajamas, put your clothes in the hamper and picked out your outfit for school tomorrow, then we can read your book together until 8:00.” Then stick to the routine—if you negotiate once, you’ll be negotiating every time—and refuse to rescue. After missing the chance to check Facebook because their history questions weren’t finished in time to enjoy their computer time, they’ll be hitting the books earlier tomorrow—no nagging required!

Train for the tasks. What about the jobs that drive you crazy? From the avalanches of laundry to the forgotten hamster, it’s time to get some help. All members of the family—even toddlers—can contribute, but it’ll take an initial investment in time to make sure they’re properly trained. First, let your kids help decide what work they’d like to take on. Toddlers can help empty the not-so-sharp objects from the dishwasher’s silverware basket using a step stool, elementary-aged kids pack their own lunch boxes and teens can be responsible for their own laundry, start to finish. Then, find a calm time to patiently walk them through the job, breaking the task into smaller steps for younger kids. Try to make it fun, and encourage effort and improvement. For more ideas on how toddlers to teens can contribute at home, get the “Jobs for Kids by Age” list.

Once your kids are competent for their tasks, hold them accountable using a When-Then Routine. Tell your 8 year old, for instance, “When the dishwasher is empty, then I will drive you to soccer practice,” or, “When you’ve folded and put away your laundry, then you can go over to your friend’s house.” Then walk away so there’s no room for argument.

Meet weekly with the family. With a busy lifestyle and less time to connect as a family, holding meetings on a weekly basis is your best bet for keeping catastrophes—like babysitting mix-ups or conflicting sports practices—at bay. Review the calendar and everyone’s schedules, then tackle family issues or special topics, from figuring out how to get everyone through the bathroom in the morning to deciding what’s for dinner—and who gets to help prepare the meal each night. Make the meeting fun – serve a snack, and end with a fun activity. Even something as simple as a quick game of Uno or a round of jokes will remind you how much fun you have together. By committing to family meetings on a weekly basis, you’ll stress less, improve logistics and keep the family close. Just as important, everyone will be on the same page every week instead of scrambling to stay afloat.

Unfrazzle yourself. As child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein says, frazzled moms make for frazzled households. It's impossible to juggle everything, and especially when you’re not at your best. Carve out some time to do what you love—read a book, connect with friends, or take a daily run. The better you take care of yourself, emotionally and physically, the better able you'll be able to take care of others.

With these tips, you’re well on your way to a less hectic household. They might not free up your Saturday afternoons or convince your kids that scrubbing bathroom tile is fun, but they will help you manage the everyday chaos so your family can thrive.

TODAY Moms contributor Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Follow Amy on Twitter @AmyMcCreadyPPS