Create a Morning Routine that Works for the Whole Family
by Minette Riordan
I was talking to Liz yesterday and her daughter started kindergarten this year. Liz said, “Now I have to become a morning person!” I started laughing and said yes, you do. I am grateful that I am a morning person but not everyone is. It can be a challenge to create a morning routine that works for the whole family when no one likes to get up early!
Do you have a child who is hard to wake up in the morning? Or a child who dawdles for what seems like hours? Or the child who scrambles to find her homework while you are already waiting in the car? Oops, forgot to brush her teeth, tie his shoes, can’t find his… The list goes on and on. Mornings can be a big challenge for many families and even in our house, where most mornings go smoothly, there are certainly days where everything seems to fall apart and we are late getting out the door for school and work.
My kids are 13 and 10, so it feels like we have been practicing for a while. It’s never perfect but I think we have managed the monster of morning chaos after some trial and error. Hint: We do not pick out clothes or make lunches the night before and we still have plenty of time in the morning. Here’s what has worked for us:
1. Get plenty of sleep!
This goes for mom and dad, too. It’s much easier to get up on time after a good night’s sleep. I know this can be a challenge for some kids and parents. One of my children is a night owl and will read until all hours of the night if I let her. I have learned to get her into bed earlier for reading time and to check under the covers for the errant flashlight!
2. Get up before your kids!
If I don’t have time for that first cup of coffee before my kids get up, the morning goes awry before it begins. I love my quiet morning time and need at least 30 minutes to wake up before I get them up. My friends are not surprised to get emails from me at 5am. It’s my best time of the day, because unlike my daughter, I am not a night owl and love to go to bed early. If you are not naturally a morning person and will do anything for that extra ten minutes of sleep, you may only want 15 minutes. I promise that getting up just a few minutes ahead of your kids will improve your own mood. Some moms I know like to get up and have their shower before their kids are up to help them wake up and ease the morning schedule. You have to do what works.
3. Establish a solid routine.
Wake your kids up at the same time every day. It’s a great idea to get your kids alarm clocks of their own. It makes them feel responsible for their own schedule. Do all of the necessary morning activities in the same order every day. If your kids are little, reward charts with pictures of activities can be a great help. Kids who are visual learners will appreciate the reminders. Practice makes perfect! Stick to your routine and remind your children daily what is expected of them, until you don’t need to remind them anymore (that might be when they go to college, but oh well!)
Here is what works for my kids: Wake up time is 6:45. They eat breakfast, which I try to have ready before they get up or at least started. After breakfast, they get dressed, brush their teeth and brush their hair, etc. Pack their backpacks with their lunch box, homework, any extras and a freshly-filled water bottle. We do put homework, projects or show and tell items in their bags the night before and they shower at night, never in the morning. They are not allowed to play or lounge about until they have finished their morning routine. Also, we found they had extra time in the mornings, so we added one chore that they could do in five to ten minutes like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry. This gives them more free time in the afternoon, which they appreciate!
4. Always build in extra time.
When my daughter was younger, she needed extra time to get going in the morning. She is never grumpy, just slow to wake up, slower to get dressed and organized. She just needed time. So we would wake her up at 6:30 and let her have a few minutes to just sit at the breakfast table. As time has gone on, she can sleep a few extra minutes and still get out the door by 7:25 every morning. The routine has become a habit and as she gets older, she doesn’t need as much sleep. I am sure that will change again as she reaches her teen years!
5. No television, computer games or other electronic devices in the morning.
Most of our kids spend way too much time staring at a screen as it is. Do not let them get into the habit of watching t.v. or playing on the computer in the morning. This is a huge distraction and can cause a big battle when you tell them it’s time to move on. My son has always struggled with transitions and trying to get him moving quickly from one activity to the next is still a challenge. Just this week I found myself wondering why he hadn’t come to pick up his lunchbox in the kitchen and pack his backpack. Turns out, he was in his bedroom, buried under a pile of Lego and completely focused on something he was building and not paying any attention to his watch!
6. Set clear rules and expectations.
This is important for every aspect of your child’s life, not just mornings. Kids need us to clearly articulate what is expected of them, what the rules are and what the consequences are when they don’t follow the rules. Make sure you children understand exactly what you need from them and why your need their cooperation in the mornings. If you are a working parent, it can be frustrating to spend time trying to get your kids out the door and risk being late to work. Explain to your child what the consequences are of you being late to work and the consequences of her being late to school! Your kids may not be intentionally trying to make you late, they may just move at a different pace than you do.
Understanding your child’s personal style will go a long way towards taking the battle out of the mornings. Getting ready for school doesn’t have to be painful, you just have to figure out what works best for your family.
Bonus Tips! Some other organizational suggestions that might work for your family include making lunches the night before (especially if you are not a morning person yourself,) laying out clothes the night before, packing backpacks with completed homework and any extras, making sure shoes and coats are by the front door, planning breakfast the night before and keeping breakfast healthy but simple. For example, I want my kids to have some protein every morning, a bowl of cereal is just not enough to keep their brain going. If we are running late, they might have peanut butter on their toast or a slice of turkey breast with their bagel. Be creative! Need more breakfast ideas? Be sure to check out my post on healthy breakfast recipes.