How to Make Morning Routines Easier for Parents and Children

Parent and child engaging in a morning routine before leaving for school

Morning routines spark anxiety in many parents and children. Despite families’ best efforts, mornings can become a high-pressure race against the clock. The good news is: it doesn’t have to be that way. The keys to less stressful mornings are preparation and increased autonomy. Read the following to learn how to make morning routines easier for parents and children.

The most effective morning routines begin the night before. Provide young children with two outfit options to choose from, then put their chosen outfit in an easily accessible place for the next morning. Older children may be able to choose their own outfits the night before without parent-provided options. However, parents should make a final check of the outfit to be sure it is weather-appropriate. 

Backpacks should also be prepared the night before. Creating a picture or word list of the items that belong inside the backpack (homework, folders, binders, textbooks, lunch, water bottle, pencils, etc.) will decrease the odds of forgetting important items as well as the amount of assistance your child needs. This list can be laminated and hung near the backpack or kept inside the backpack. If your child brings a packed lunch, preparing it the night before saves precious morning time. To provide increased autonomy and choice, allow your child the opportunity to choose from several options of food or drink items.

Children who feel they have some control over their morning routines are more willing to participate. Many of my client families discovered their children are more likely to follow a direction coming from a visual schedule of their essential morning tasks than from an adult verbally reminding them. For young children, you might use a picture to represent each task. These pictures can be of your child completing the activity or generic graphics found online. Older children may prefer a task list written in words. The list should be laminated or put in a plastic sleeve to prevent damage. Some children enjoy marking off each task or moving a picture from a “to-do” column to a “done” column as they complete them. When a child is having difficulty initiating tasks in the morning, rather than nagging, parents can simply say, “Check your schedule!” Similarly, a child who is used to being told, “Go brush your teeth,” will respond more positively when given the option, “Would you like to brush your teeth before or after getting dressed?” The task must be completed, but the adult allows the child some control over when he or she does it.

Try asking your child how they prefer to wake up. Would they like a parent to wake them or would an alarm clock be more effective? For children who prefer a parent to wake them, it can be helpful to build in extra time so the child can have the choice between getting up immediately or getting up in 5 minutes.

Young children who are still learning to complete life skills like dressing and brushing their teeth will benefit from having extra time to attempt these tasks independently before a parent steps in to help. When parents are rushed, they often do everything for their child to save precious minutes. Unfortunately, if this happens repeatedly it can create a pattern of learned helplessness. Consistently planning a few extra minutes for your child to practice these important skills will help them become more independent which will decrease demands on parents.

Does your child often dawdle or become distracted mid-task? Try playing the beat-the-clock game. Challenge your child to complete the desired task before a timer goes off or a favorite song ends. Be sure to give them lots of praise for their efforts, whether or not they “win”.

Parents commonly report that their children resist wearing appropriate outerwear, which causes arguments and lost time in the morning. One solution for this problem is to create and display a chart listing appropriate clothing options for various temperature ranges. Give your child the means to check the temperature outside, either by installing an easily visible outdoor thermometer or downloading a weather app on their preferred device. Rather than arguing, direct your child to check their chart to find out if they are required to wear a coat or not.

Having trouble getting physically out the door? Make up a special song, or allow your child to choose an existing song, to sing during the transition out the door. Get some wiggles out by hopping, galloping, skipping, or walking like various animals as you head to the car, bus, or school. Blowing and popping bubbles as you walk is another way to make leaving home less stressful and more fun!

If you continue to have difficulty with morning routines, try having a conversation with your child when they are calm and there are no time restraints. Work together to identify the areas of the morning routine that are most difficult and brainstorm solutions. Acknowledge how difficult mornings can be, even for grown-ups. Validate whatever negative feelings they may have about morning routines, then encourage them to help you think of creative and fun solutions.

Do you have any tips for making mornings run a little more smoothly? Let us know in the comments!

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