Getting an entire family up, dressed, fed, and out the door before the sun even comes up could easily be a recipe for disaster (or at least a meltdown or two!). But it doesn’t have to be. If you set routines and do some preparation, your family’s mornings will be smooth sailing.
This post originally appeared on A Fine Parent.
You know the easiest way to get the stress out of parenting? Find the one situation that constantly causes friction and figure out how to make it go smoother.
That’s it. The rest will simply follow suit. To us, it was the mornings.
Getting an entire family up and ready for the morning can be an daily stressful occurrence for any parent—and I have two kids under the age of three that go to two different schools 30 minutes away from our house, so I’m familiar with the struggle.
Believe me, we have had our share of morning meltdowns, but I’ve spent some time really working on managing the morning routine for our kids and setting the whole family up to start the day off full of light and happiness rather than whining and misery.
These things have worked really well for our family and hopefully they will help you to start your day off on the right track as well. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a less chaotic morning routine for you and your kids.
Make Sure Everyone is Getting Enough Sleep
Before we even start looking at the morning routine for kids, we need to address the elephant in the room. It seems obvious and we’ve all heard it before, but the importance of sleep cannot be overstated.
Are your kids getting enough sleep?
Here is a handy chart that breaks down how much sleep kids need depending on their age. You can determine your child’s appropriate bedtime by subtracting the number of hours from the time you need to wake them up in order to get out the door in time.
So, for a two year old who needs to be up by 7am, they need to be in bed by 7pm.
Prepare the Night Before
Now that everyone is getting enough sleep, the next step is to try to minimize the number of responsibilities everyone has in the morning. It will just make everything easier in the morning if the more arduous tasks are already taken care of. Here’s what you should consider doing the night before:
- Prepare breakfast the night before. I’m surprised that more parents don’t already do this! It depends on what sort of breakfast you like, but if you can prepare food on the previous night, it will save a ton of time in the morning.
- Pack lunches. Have you tried bento boxes? Young kids love them and they keep things interesting, not to mention relatively easy to fix. There are tons of simple ideas on pinterest and one of my favorite sites for lunch ideas is Weelicious.
- Choose clothes. Let your child pick out their own clothes the night before or keep a selection of appropriate school clothes at their level so they can quickly choose their outfit in the morning. Involving your child in this decision-making process is a great way to give them a little control over their morning routine.
- Assign a box/hook/shelf for all of the school essentials so you aren’t searching for backpacks, shoes, lunch boxes etc. each morning. Tip: Assign a place for your briefcase/keys/wallet/phone as well.
Get up Before Your Kids
This may seem like common sense, but in practice, it’s not unusual for children to beat their sleep-deprived parents to the morning punch. If you set your alarm for at least 15-30 minutes before your kids wake up, establishing a morning routine for kids becomes much easier, and you’ll be setting the whole family up for a successful morning. Ideally you will be showered, dressed, and packed up for the day by the time the little ones awake. And personally, I find a few precious moments for coffee.
Just like children, adults benefit from a regular routine. Consider creating a morning ritual that helps you start your day off well before your kids even wake up.
In our house, we go so far as to load up all of our things in the car before we even get the kids up, so that we aren’t searching for our briefcase or purse at the last minute along with trying to load up the kids.
It’s hard to encourage your kids to prepare ahead of time or keep all of their things in a designated place if you’re the one spending every morning shouting "where’s my phone?" to your spouse.
If you have younger kids, use pictures instead of just words in your morning routine chart and include all of the things that need to get done, like:
- Brushing teeth
- Combing hair
- Washing face
- Getting dressed
- Eating breakfast
- Putting on shoes
- Grab backpack/lunchbox
- Head out the door
Once you have picked a morning routine for kids, go through all of the steps with them, talking about each step as you go along your morning. This will help you recognize any glitches or perhaps the need to re-order some of the steps.
Throughout the morning routine, encourage your child to take ownership of these tasks and try not to do everything for them. It might be quicker in the short term to put their pants on for them, but you will just contribute to a power struggle that you will pay for in time and frustration down the road. As Maria Montessori put it in The Absorbent Mind:
Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.
Frame Tasks with a "When… Then" Approach
One of my favorite parenting tools is the "when… then" approach as described by Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions:
A When-Then Routine is a tool to help your kids stay motivated to get everything done in the morning—even the "yucky" stuff like brushing teeth and getting dressed. It structures your morning so that all the not-so-fun tasks are completed before the most desirable part of the morning like breakfast (or morning playtime, TV time, etc.).
Identify one thing that your child loves about morning time and make it contingent on them being done with the rest of the tasks on their morning routine checklist. For example, "when you get dressed, brush your teeth and make your bed, then we have breakfast."
The "when… then" approach works wonders in our house. It is great because it doesn’t really give the child any other options. You come at it with the attitude that it doesn’t really matter to you either way.
If they want breakfast, then they have to do those things first and if they choose not to then they will suffer the natural consequence of being hungry, and likely won’t make the same decision the next time.
Just be sure to pick something that you can stay firm with, and don’t cave. Otherwise you will render the "when… then" approach useless.
Remain Calm and Connected
Your kids can sense when you are rushed and frantic and they will slow down and resist. If you are following all of the tips above you shouldn’t be rushed, but things can come up at the last minute.
When you feel yourself becoming frazzled, get down on the same level with your child and explain to them why you need their help in that moment and give them a task to take ownership of.
Kids tend to mirror your actions and tone, so if you find yourself yelling a lot in the morning or showing frustration in physical ways (pointing, huffing and puffing etc.), try to really focus on your attitude and use a calm voice.
One trick that we have found especially helpful is to almost whisper when you find yourself getting frustrated. This will help you remember to use a calm voice rather than raising your voice or yelling.
Getting ready and getting everyone out the door in the morning is a task for the whole family and all members of the family need to contribute to this effort.
Make Weekends Special
It’s a good idea not to stray too much from the routine on the weekends, but you can still make weekends feel special. After you make sure that your kids are getting enough sleep, you can enjoy a more relaxed pace by making a special breakfast or having story time before the usual routine. You can even start a special weekend tradition like pancakes or family time watching cartoons.
In our house, we always go to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and even our young toddler really looks forward to this special morning that happens only once a week. She is always excited about picking out her clothes (usually a raincoat and boots in Oregon) and dreaming up all of the delicious things we will find at the market.
Each member of the family has their special treat that they look forward to: the one year old eats his weight in berries, the toddler gets a honey stick or fresh pastry, and the adults get local freshly brewed espresso. The whole family looks forward to these mornings, so we are all motivated to get up and get out the door and start our weekend feeling energized and excited to spend time together as a family.
Trying to establish a morning routine for kids that actually works may seem in the beginning like a lot of effort, but the ease with which (most of) our mornings flow these days has made the effort well worth it.
Instead of being the most stressful time of the day, our mornings are now a whole lot calmer and set the pace for a beautiful day ahead. What more can you want from life?
How to Establish a Morning Routine for Kids That Actually Works | A Fine Parent
Bryn Huntpalmer is a Texan at heart though she and her husband are now raising their two kids on the beautiful Oregon Coast. As a new mom, she is simultaneously struggling with feelings of total confidence and paralyzing anxiety on a daily basis. You can find her writing about the trials and triumphs of life and motherhood at her Oregon lifestyle blog, Her Own Wings.
Want to see your work on Lifehacker? Email Andy.