Morning Routines You and Your Kids Can Master

young girl tired sleeping at breakfast table

You wake up two minutes before your phone alarm goes off, feeling well-rested. As you pull on your robe, you hear the kids laughing and getting along. You roll downstairs to see them already fully dressed, lunches packed, eating a nutritious breakfast. 

Gosh, you think. It’s only Monday, but this week is going to be great! I must be doing something right. 

While patting yourself on the back for raising such civilized children, you hear a faint, jarring sound. 

It gets louder, quickly becoming annoyingly deafening…

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!”

Oh, fudge. 

That’s your alarm, you’ve overslept, and your perfect morning is about to get real.

It’s time to hit the ground running. 

Forget about whether you’re a morning person or you woke up on the “right” or “wrong” side of the bed. Forget if you’re already straining to recall the foggy details of a wishful dream. And forget if your kids always seem to turn what would be peaceful mornings into madness.

For a successful start to any family’s day, a solid morning routine is what’s needed.

Here’s how to tame your morning mania:

Make Routine Your Best Friend Forever

Routines are regimented and repetitive. They seem boring and blasé. 

But when it comes to de-stressing and streamlining your daily life, morning rituals are your number one ally.

Why do routines work so well? 

First, even though kids love to push boundaries, they thrive on predictability. And parents do too. 

When kids know what’s expected of them, it’s easier to comply. They also feel comfortable in the confines of a reliable structure. 

But frenzy, complication, and stress? No one thrives on that. 

Second, routines are easier on our bodies. Anyone getting up at the same time every day–with sufficient sleep–will eventually find that waking up is easier. This means waking up at the same time on weekends, holidays, and all through summer break. 

And even though younger kids tend to jump out of bed while teenagers tend to sleep in, children of any age can train their bodies to follow a healthy circadian rhythm. 

It may take a little time and commitment. But to nail down a great routine, rehearsal is the perfect place to start.

Here are 3 quick strategies to ensure your routines run like clockwork…

Pro Tip: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please review the Ultimate Survival Guide: Taming Morning Mania. We narrow down the 5 tools that lead to well-behaved kids (and dreamy, seamless mornings).

1. Take Time for Training

Practice makes mornings perfect–or, at least, much more manageable. 

No routines are ever flawless. Nor are they learned immediately. Tasks need to be tested and kinks worked out. Routines are always, at least to a small extent, an evolving work in progress. 

Still, the first step is to train children for what’s expected of them. 

If you want your kids to suddenly wake up and make their beds, get themselves dressed, brush their hair and teeth, eat a wholesome breakfast, pack their lunches, put homework in their backpacks, feed the dog…they are going to need a little guidance. 

We often overlook that kids aren’t born knowing how to accomplish basic tasks. Even older kids suddenly charged with more responsibility might have a learning curve. 

How long should they be brushing their teeth? How do they make their beds nicely? Where can they find clean pants? Is a brownie for lunch acceptable? How much food goes in the dog bowl, and which type? 

These are questions kids need answered before solidly executing what we ask of them.

So before you hand your kids a long list of jobs for their morning routine, be sure to Take Time for Training. This is a powerful tool that gives children the skills they need to complete tasks while increasing their own capabilities. 

Just like adults, when kids feel capable and empowered, they are more likely to confidently and successfully complete their list of to-dos. 

Use a When/Then Routine

As all parents know, just because we ask our kids to do something doesn’t mean they’ll do it. 

We can plead for them to cooperate, but their willpower and defiance can stand in the way. 

This is the time to implement a When/Then Routine. It’s especially useful when learning a new set of rules or morning schedule. 

If your kindergartener refuses to make his bed, simply state, When you’ve made your bed like we practiced yesterday, Ethan, then you can go downstairs and eat your yummy breakfast.” 

It’s important to note that the then portion of the request isn’t a reward. It’s just something more enjoyable, albeit normally allowed, than the task they’re complaining about. 

Once realizing you won’t budge and that he really won’t get breakfast until he’s made the bed, Ethan will eventually comply. 

The When/Then Routine might take some time to go smoothly at first. It depends on how long kids delay completing the requested task. But soon, the When/Then Routine becomes a habit and less and less of a struggle. 

Truth Bomb: Parents sometimes take for granted that kid priorities are different from adult priorities. Unlike laser-focused parents, kids get distracted and look for opportunities to maximize play. But the more we encourage them to stick to their routines, the more they’ll stay on track. 

kid priorities are different from parent priorities

No matter what time of year you’re tackling a new routine, just be sure to test it out first. It could be a warm spring weekend or a week before a new school year starts. But always allow a grace period–and gracious attitude–for kids to make mistakes, learn, and start anew.

The result is that kids will be more self-sufficient in no time. 

1. Plan for Punctuality 

You may be a person who marches to the beat of your own drum and the tick of your own clock. 

Or, maybe, if you aren’t 10 minutes early, you feel late. 

While we may think the ability to be punctual is a deeply-rooted character trait–the truth is, it directly relates to a person’s morning routine. 

Besides consistency, building a cushion of time into any routine is essential. And this isn’t just during the training period.

Daily life has unlimited variables. There could be a traffic accident, your preschooler could wake up with a bloody nose, or the cereal bowl could decide to be slippery in your daughter’s hands and spill all over the clean floor. 

Even a well-mastered routine is going to be thwarted by these minor hiccups, and that’s okay. But keeping ourselves calm–and punctual–despite these little obstacles is easier when we build in some leeway. 

If you’re in the habit of getting up at the last minute and cutting it down to the wire, or your kids are constantly late to school, don’t underestimate the time it takes for your family to complete your morning routine. Exaggerate the time and then add 10-20 minutes. 

Of course, it’s easier said than done. As with any morning routine, waking up early can be the hardest part. 

Now that you have the tips to create the framework for a successful morning routine, here are some other strategies for turning morning madness into morning magic.

Sleep for Success 

The next, mandatory step to morning success is a solid bedtime routine.

Positive parenting is about unraveling the foundation of misbehavior. It’s finding the root of the problem. And that can be more complex than it seems.

Join Amy for a free class

Similarly, when hectic mornings still abound after strong routines are implemented, the culprit could be the lack of sleep from nights prior. 

Singers say the note before the high note is the foundation of a beautiful, sustained pitch. Athletes envision success the night before a game to perform better the next day. 

So, set your family up for success by going to bed earlier. Or, at the very least, on time. 

Adults and kids alike need a lot of sleep. And most of us don’t get enough. 

Electricity and technology, while amazing, are keeping us awake at night. So, we can start by keeping our kids and ourselves away from screens two hours before bed every night. This includes iPads, smartphones, social media, and TV

Next, we can add a consistent bedtime. Just like getting up at the same time every morning, going to bed at the same time every night trains our bodies to fall asleep faster and more easily. 

We also need to make sure bedtime is early enough to allow plenty of sleep per night. This time may be different for each child, but until kids can wake up feeling mostly refreshed, keep testing earlier bedtimes. 

No one is destined for a good morning when they’re grumpy and sleep-deprived. 

Structure Your Own Mornings–Like a Boss

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then let’s set good examples for the kids that so lovingly look up to us. 

Successful daily routines for our kids largely rely on our positive attitudes. If we feel calm and in control, our kids will pick up on that and reflect it. Conversely, our stress can show up in their actions, like resistance, dawdling, and backtalk.

I know. It’s hard to feel in control when life is so hectic, and the to-do list is so long it makes your head spin. 

So, what can you do?

Wake Up Before Your Kids

Start by getting up at least a half-hour before everyone else. 

If lack of sleep is an issue, set yourself an earlier bedtime, just like the kids. Then, just do it. Get up earlier. 

Waking up before your kids’ feet hit the floor allows you the chance to compose yourself, use the restroom in peace,   work out, check your email, and even make and drink a cup of coffee before the kids wake up and add to the equation. It gives you much-needed “me” time before you have to be “on” for everyone else. (It may be your only “alone” time during the day!) 

Parenthood will always have its moments: occasionally we’ll wake up to kids staring at us, jumping on us, or startling us awake by screaming and tattling on one other

While these do make funny memories, not every morning has to be as jarring. Most mornings, we can give ourselves time to stretch luxuriously, get out of bed on our own, and mentally prepare for the rest of the day. 

It really makes a world of difference.  

Simplify Your Tasks

Another way to make morning routines easier is to complete as much prep work as possible the day before. 

Suggest that your kids–especially the fashion-conscious ones–pick out the clothes they’d like to wear the next day before they go to bed. Help them get in the habit of putting completed homework in their backpacks the day before, not the morning it’s due. Ask them to accompany you for weekend grocery shopping, so they can plan what they’ll pack in their lunches that week. 

Just like routines themselves, the act of simplifying takes practice and training. So, be patient. Consider hanging up a routine chart that reminds kids of the to-do list until they have it memorized. (Pro Tip: For the younger kids, be sure your routine chart includes pictures!)

And don’t forget to make things easier on yourself, too. Start with an uncomplicated breakfast that doesn’t sacrifice healthy options. Defrost already prepared pancakes, serve pre-cut fruit, or even train the kids to make their own oatmeal. 

Most mornings will eventually go smoothly. Just don’t be frazzled by occasional mishaps. 

Prepare for Challenges

Yes, routines should be as consistent as possible, but there are times when we have to be flexible. 

Because life happens. 

As a general rule, we don’t want to stray from our routine wake-up time. But what if a late-night trip to the emergency room or an overseas vacation messes with our schedules? 

Changes to our routines can leave lingering effects for a few days. The important thing to remember is that it’s normal to have some setbacks. Whether it’s childhood sleep regression or any number of outside influences, just do your best to take glitches one day at a time and slowly melt back to a regular routine. 

And don’t forget it’s normal for kids to slip up in their routines and push boundaries. 

Instead of nagging and brandishing punishment when kids don’t “stick to the program,” allow them to make these mistakes. Then, implement two Positive Parenting Solutions tools; the No Rescue Policy and Natural Consequences. 

The No-Rescue Policy means that when your teenager forgets to put his homework in his backpack the night before, you won’t remind him that it’s missing–or run it to school for him. 

In order to use the No-Rescue Policy effectively, be sure your child is well-trained on the expectation ahead of time and work with him to create systems to remember in the future.

“I’ve noticed you have a hard time remembering your homework after a late lacrosse practice. You’re responsible enough to manage your sports schedule AND your homework, so next time you forget your homework, I won’t be bringing it to school. Do you want to brainstorm some visual reminders to cue you before you leave the house in the morning?”

The key to the No-Rescue Policy is that children are well-aware of the expectation and not being blind-sided. Otherwise, kids may feel angry and betrayed when suddenly learning THIS is the day we will no longer redeem them. 

After your strategic lack of involvement, Natural Consequences will soon follow. And the result of missing homework–be it zero credit for the work completed or a lower grade–will teach your teenager to be better organized and prepared next time.

Maintain Routines Through Virtual Schooling

For most of us, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into normalcy. 

Many of us work from home while our kids attend school remotely. We wear sweatpants to morning meetings, and kids wear pajamas to class. We turn off our cameras and brush our teeth with co-workers present, and kids eat sticky syrupy waffles while copying multiplication tables. 

Without having to leave the house, it’s tempting to let pre-COVID morning routines slide. But, despite so many changes, our morning habits should remain as consistent as they were before. 

It doesn’t matter if our commute to work is via the highway or a simple flight of stairs. It doesn’t matter if our kids are going to catch the bus or stay inside all day; maintaining the same routine instills a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic time. Furthermore, it reinforces that virtual school, while remarkably different, requires just as much preparation and respect as it does in person. 

We can still enjoy the small conveniences of slightly easier morning routines while there remains nowhere to go. But we can’t take for granted the power of a solid routine any day of the week, no matter our responsibilities or plans. 

Final Thoughts

Happier, efficient mornings really are within your grasp. But caffeine or decaf, summer or fall, five kids or one, your best bet is to find a morning routine and stick to it. 

Just know that the first few days–or even weeks–of any new routine will require some willpower and dedication. But I’m confident; before long, the mornings you used to dream about will come true.

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.