Parents frequently find mornings to be the most stressful part of the week – especially on weekdays, which have the added pressure of bus stop timing and day planning. It’s common for families to find themselves struggling with manic mornings, day after day.
Great news: Mornings don’t have to be frustrating. With some planning techniques, you can refresh your routine and start the day off right.
Tip #1: Make a Morning Plan
The first step is to get real with your family about what’s going on. Have a brief meeting, with everyone included in the discussion, and set a new goal of making mornings happier and more organized.
For elementary school-aged kids, it’s important to explain you’re not angry with them, and they’re not in trouble. Get them on board by including them in the planning process.
A good plan includes things like:
- An exact wake-up time
- Having predictable places where things are kept
- A list of what’s needed for the day
- A calendar or chart that keeps everyone on track
- Positive words and supportive sayings
Tip #2: Introduce the Mental Checklist
Ideally, your children have memorized everything they need for each day. Realistically, they need help. School-age kids get frustrated when they’re aware of needs, but can’t keep it all straight in their minds.
Now’s the time to introduce the idea of the mental checklist, a short list of things needed for the day. Start by making an actual list, on paper, which is posted on the wall or refrigerator. Over time you’ll see your kids begin to absorb the list and run through it mentally on their own.
For an elementary-age child, the checklist may have items like:
- Socks and shoes
- Coat, hat, and gloves
- School-issued iPad and charger
- Homework or forms to be turned in
- Instrument or equipment for school activities
When your child becomes irritated with the morning process, refer to the checklist. It’s a comforting and predictable way of moving things along.
The checklist concept can be modified to fit your child’s exact learning style, like visual, auditory, or tactile/kinesthetic. For a visual learner, for example, pictures of their belongings might be better than a written list.
Tip #3: Ask, Don’t Answer
As you guide your children through the morning routine, place the responsibility on them to remember what happens next. Even a very young child can answer the question, “Okay, what’s next?” and point to their shoes or coat.
Questions – not instructions – are the key to establishing a good morning schedule, because they encourage your child to think things through. Here are some examples.
Instead of, “Go brush your teeth,” ask, “What comes right after breakfast?”
Instead of, “Make sure you have your homework” ask, “What three things go in your backpack?”
Instead of, “Do you have your lunch?” ask “What’s missing from your right hand?”
Tip #4: Plan Ahead
A good Tuesday morning starts on Monday night. Set aside time each evening to plan ahead for the next day. Just 5 minutes of preparation can make a huge difference.
Many parents find that bedtime is not the right time for next-day planning. At this point, your child may be tired, cranky, wound up, or resistant to talking about tomorrow.
Instead, try doing it right after dinner when their belly is full. Run through the items on your morning plan, chatting about differences between today and tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow there’s a performance and your child will need a special outfit. Now’s the time to pick it out, not during the morning rush.
Tip #5: Take Time to Celebrate
As your mornings become easier, take a moment to stop and appreciate the change. Give your child positive feedback for specific items on their checklist, like “Great job! You remembered to put on your own coat five days in a row!” Acknowledge success with special rewards.
As your child ages, their schedule will likely become even more challenging with the addition of sports, activities, and friendships. Consider adding some silly learning techniques that make the morning routine a long-term success.