Any parent can tell you— mornings are challenging. As you’re rushing around trying to gather school supplies, wrangle younger children or pack snacks, you just know there could be a meltdown any second. While a good morning routine can’t avoid a meltdown, it can make sure one doesn’t take the rest of day with it.
“If your child is struggling to get ready on time in the mornings, get them up so that they have 30 minutes of buffer time,” says Dr. Christopher Drescher, a child psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. “In other words, if everything goes smoothly, they would be ready 30 minutes before they need to leave. That way, if things get off schedule, there is time built in to address the issues and still be ready to leave on time. This will lower everyone’s stress level.”
Besides using time wisely, Dr. Drescher recommends the following good morning tips:
1. Get up before your kids.
Sleep is precious and we know this is hard. But, it’s worth it. Set an alarm at least a few minutes earlier than the rest of your family. Use this time to shower (uninterrupted!), get dressed for the day, gather the items you need for your own day and treat yourself to a quiet cup of coffee before you rouse the rest of the family. Getting yourself in a good headspace can help you remain calm when things don’t go according to schedule.
3. Have a plan.
Make a morning flowchart and use a “When/Then” approach. It’s really easy to get distracted and waste time in the morning. Ask yourself what your household struggles with the most? Getting dressed? Brushing teeth? Start your plan with those hard tasks first. Follow it with other tasks like combing hair, feeding the pets or any other morning chores. Teach them to finish one task before starting the next, then when they’re done they can eat breakfast or watch T.V.
“For children that are struggling with getting ready in the morning, it can be useful to use positive reinforcement to encourage on-task behavior,” says Dr. Drescher.”For example, if your child is taking too long getting dressed before eating breakfast you could place a desired item (like a baseball card, sticker, or coloring page) under their breakfast plate. This way, they get a small reward for getting dressed quick enough to have time to eat breakfast at the table.”
4. Be flexible.
Rigid routines can sometimes do more harm than good. Identify tasks and chores that can be rearranged or omitted completely. If you noticed resistance when doing these in the morning, remain calm and let them pass. Don’t argue about doing tasks for the sake of doing it.
5. Make alarms fun.
Set countdown alarms to the time you need to leave using funny sounds and sound effects. When one goes off, calmly announce what it means, “That [insert sound here] means we have 30 minutes until it’s time to leave.” This will help avoid the constant (and escalating) nagging.
6. Watch and learn.
Teachers are very special people. They have all kinds of tricks to keep children organized and on task. Ask them what their favorite methods are and use those at home too.
It’s important to know that better morning routines start with better nighttime routines.
Prepare the night before.
Get kids to help pack their bookbags and lunch for the next day. Put everything that goes to school in one designated spot for a quick grab and go. Don’t forget to do this with clothes too. For finicky dressers, pick out two or three options. Include one bottom, top, shoes and, if the weather requires, one layering piece.
Make sure bedtimes are set and followed.
School-aged kids need about 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Count backward from when they have to get up and that’s when they should be in bed. Start bedtime prep about 30 minutes before to account for bath time, brushing teeth, story time and other tasks.
Take a moment to chat.
Now that you’ve got your child in bed, take a moment to talk through the next day with them. Are they worried about anything? Are they looking forward to something special? Identifying stressors and excitement the night before can help manage high-emotions the next morning.
If you’re still getting stuck, Dr. Drescher recommends open communication and problem-solving.
“Collaborate with your child to identify the problem and develop solutions,” he says. “Take time to understand and validate your child’s perspective on what is causing difficulties in the morning, share your perspective, and then take turns suggesting possible solutions. Find at least one solution you both can agree too and then give it a try.”