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12 tips to master your kids' morning routine and eliminate stress

Nail the right bedtime and morning routine and everyone will have a better day.
by Nicole Spector /
Image: A woman prepares a meal for the day.
Prep lunch meals and snacks the night before, and let kids in on the decision making process — by offering only two choices. Shutterstock
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Not all of us are morning people, but life with kids doesn’t much care for the preferences of our sleep cycles, so, like it or not, when children are in the picture and back-to-school is in the air, we’ve all got to get with the AM program.

Setting a clear, stable morning routine can help the whole family get on board and stay on track. Plus, as Dr. Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist and the author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child” notes, it’s good for your kids.

“Having a clear structure in place gives your child a sense of trust, safety and security” she says. “[They] know what to expect and can easily move through responsibilities.”

Here’s how to nail your kids' morning routine so that everyone can have a good day.

Make sure your child has a good sleep routine (weekends included)

Before we can conquer the morning, we have to get through the night — with a good amount of sleep. Dr. Jerry Bubrick, senior clinical psychologist at The Child Mind Institute recommends that kids get eight solid hours of Zs. “If a child is sleep-deprived, everything is harder. We want sleep to be a rhythmic process, [with] no catching up on sleep on the weekends.”

Set alarms for the same time every morning “no matter what the exit time out of the house is,” says Bubrick.

Stock up on organizational materials for the home

“It is beneficial to take the time to look at the organization of the home's entrance,” says Marina V. Umali, an interior designer. “Keeping everything organized will ensure a smooth morning routine and will save precious time getting ready. Purchasing bins, containers and hooks that can be assigned for each adult and/or child is the best way to keep everything organized and in one place.”

Prep the night before for a no-rush morning

Mornings can be hectic, but you can change that by allowing yourself enough time to get everything done. Get a head start the night before.

“Mornings can really set the tone for your entire day, so I strive to eliminate that frantic, rushing out the door feeling that is all too familiar for most families,” says Dr. Kat Cohen, CEO and founder of educational consulting firm IvyWise and the mother of two young children. “I always encourage students to pack their bags and pick out their outfits the night before, [which] gives students more time to review what they need for the following day.”

Limit lunch options, but give a choice

If possible, you should also prep lunch meals and snacks the night before, and let kids in on the decision making process — to an extent.

“Go over at night what are the plans for the next day’s lunch if the parent packs it,” says Ben Bernstein, PhD, a performance psychologist and the author of several books including “Crush Your Test Anxiety: How to Be Calm, Confident, and Focused on Any Test”. “Give the child two options if you can, it will make kids feel like they are part of the decision making process.”

Talk with kids about what’s on their minds for the next day

Bernstein highlights the importance of talking with your kids before they go to bed to make for a stress-free morning. He recommends parents ask the following of kids:

  • What are you looking forward to?
  • What, if any, concerns do you have?

By talking through any tough (or exciting) topics before bed, you stand to have a smoother morning with no stress on your kids’ part.

Get in a positive mindset before you wake the kids

It can be challenging to be peppy and bright first thing in the morning, but centering yourself in a positive mindset can work wonders for you and your kids.

“Parents always have the power to turn any 'mood-ship' around, from happy to unhappy and from unhappy to happy,” says Jacqueline Pirtle, a mindfulness and happiness coach and the author of “365 Days of Happiness: Because Happiness Is a Piece of Cake!”, who recommends meditating into a happy, feel-good place before the parent duties start and before you wake up the kids.

Get yourself ready first

“In our minds as parents, it seems logical that we can get ready while [our kids] do, but logic doesn’t always work with parenting,” says Dr.Bubrick. “Wake up a bit earlier, shower and get yourself ready before waking up the kids.”

Frustrated? Yelling will only backfire

“Model patience and calmness,” adds Dr. Bubrick. “If you are yelling, you’ve already lost the battle. The calmer you are, the more responsive your child will be. We can’t expect our kids to be efficient and happy if we’re screaming at them, and they’ll learn it’s ok to yell when frustrated.”

Additionally, it’s easy to snap at a cranky child who refuses to put their shoes on, but rather than getting angry at bad behavior, focus on rewarding good behavior.

“Good job putting your shoes on is far more helpful than ‘c’mon already and put your shoes on,’” says Bubrick.

No TV, videogames or iPads first thing

When kids get out of bed, they may want to rush to activities more joyous than brushing their teeth, but to get the day to a productive start, you should pull the plug on TV and/or videogames in the morning.

“Playing games and watching TV should not be allowed in the mornings prior to your child completing all of his responsibilities first,” says Dr. Walfish. “You can, however, use games and TV as a motivator for quickly getting washed, dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast and preparing your backpack, [as in] ‘the faster you get ready for school, the more time you get to watch TV.’”

Have the kids make their own beds

Karin Sun, mother of two and founder of Crane & Canopy, an online provider of luxury bedding and bath products, finds that having your kids make their beds in the morning instills good habits early on.

“Making the bed creates a domino effect, triggering other healthy habits throughout the day and also establishes a feeling of accomplishment first thing in the morning, since it’s tough to tackle the big things without getting the little things done first,” says Sun.

Have a protein-rich breakfast

There’s truth to the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this is especially so for your kids.

“Lunch at school varies from 10:30am to 1pm, so we want their brains and bodies nourished for maximum performance,” says Dr. Bubrick. “Protein-rich foods like eggs and cheese, or even health protein bars are better than empty calories or nothing.”

Be flexible, even when it means breaking the routine

While there’s no arguing the significance of a healthy breakfast, sometimes your child just won’t be in the mood. Don’t fight it. Same goes for if they don’t want to pick out clothes the night before.

“Be flexible. While routines are important, parents who are inflexible with a routine can cause more stress and anxiety. I see a lot is children who may not be hungry in the morning,” notes Dr. Laura F. Dabney, MD, a psychiatrist. “Instead of trying to force-feed a child (impossible, by the way) just have the child sit with family for breakfast. Or if they don't want to pick their clothes out the night before as dictated by the routine then have them pick another time to do it. If your kids feel like they are part of making the routine they are more likely to follow it.”

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