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Making Your Morning Routines Manageable

By Connie Schnoes, Ph.D.

Making Your Morning Routines Manageable

Getting out of the house on time with children dressed, teeth brushed, tummies filled and backpacks in hand can be challenging. Getting out the door without nagging, yelling and racing may seem impossible. You can create an environment that teaches your child to take responsibility for his/her morning routine, and, have more pleasant interactions with your child each morning.

Getting through the morning routine can become relatively stress free if you follow some simple steps on a daily basis. I didn’t say it would be easy. Old patterns are hard to break. But with time, effort and patience, smoother, happier mornings are possible.

  1. Decide what time you need to walk out the door to be to school on time.
  2. Think about all the things your child needs to do from the time he/she awakes until it is time to walk out the door. Think carefully about how much time is needed to complete the tasks and ensure you and your child have enough time to get everything done.
  3. Make a list of the things that need to be done in the order they are to be completed. For young children drawings or pictures maybe helpful on the list.
    • Get dressed
    • Brush hair
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take medicine
    • Brush teeth
    • Put coat and backpack next to the door
  4. Identify with your child a preferred activity he/she would enjoy doing after the rest of the list is completed when he/she has at least 5 minutes of time to spare before it is time to leave. This activity must be approved by you. Some ideas include: watch TV, play a video game, play with the dog, read, listen to music, play piano, get on the computer, etc. Place this activity at the bottom of the list.
  5. Hang the list in a location the child can monitor. You may choose to hang a second or third copy in additional locations to help you also monitor task completion.
  6. Inform your child he/she is to do each task on the list and check them off as they are completed. When everything is done before _________ (fill in the time that is at least 5 minutes before it is time to walk out the door) he/she gets to do the last thing on the list. For young children check them off together and read what’s next.
  7. As your child engages in and/or completes a task, provide specific praise.You may say things like “Just 2 more tasks and you get to watch TV.” “Wow, you are doing great, I bet you will have time for piano this morning.”
  8. When your child gets everything done with time to spare, make sure he/she gets to do the fun thing. Be equally diligent in making sure he/she does not get to do the fun activity if everything is not done on time.
  9. Walk out the door on time! If your child only gets part of the list done, walk out the door on time! He/she may end up dressing in the car or going to school without breakfast or with messy hair. The key is not to give in to the temptation to nag or scold or do the task for the child. Rather, talk with his/her teachers and let them know you are working on improving your child’s independence and being responsible so he/she may come to school hungry or with messy hair a few mornings. Chances are this won’t happen very many times before the child figures out how to get through his/her routine successfully. It is easy to eat breakfast on the go and I wouldn’t encourage this if you want breakfast eaten at home. Otherwise, chances are, breakfast will continue to be eaten in the car.

Planning and patience are key to allow this strategy to work. This plan is about teaching your child to take care of his/her morning routine as independently as possible. Your child is responsible for doing his/her morning tasks. If you take responsibility by reminding, doing for, helping (when help isn’t required) your child will likely let you keep reminding, doing and helping him/her.

If you give this strategy a try and it doesn’t seem to be working, make sure enough time is allowed for everything to be done, praise is readily being given and access to the fun activity is available after everything else is done. And remember, change takes time.