Familius.com Shop

The Morning Routine: Getting Your Family Out the Door

Summer break is over, and the days of slow, routine-less mornings are giving way to alarm clocks and school bells. While most parents feel at least a little relieved to get back to a regular schedule, the transition into a morning routine can be a major source of stress. I have three children in school and sports, and I know just how difficult it can be to get everyone fed, dressed, packed, and out the door on time. There are plenty of power struggles; I’m certainly not perfect, and we still have difficult days, but here are some tips that have helped our family create a morning routine and just might help yours too.

Plan Your Morning Routine Ahead

As the old adage goes, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” We set our children (and ourselves) up for failure if we assume our routine will magically fall into place. In a quiet moment when you’re home for the evening, sit with your child and go over the morning routine. Discuss what needs to be done, what they might need your help with, and what you can do together to make the morning go smoothly.

If your child can read, write out a list; if not, encourage your child to draw a picture of each item in the morning routine. This will not be a one-and-done conversation, but rather an ongoing collaboration. Each week, you can review and adjust, and invite your child to help you solve problems. You might say, “I noticed you had a hard time putting down your LEGOs to get dressed this morning. What can we do to help you with that tomorrow?” Remember, children often feel anxiety around leaving home for the day—even when they really enjoy school or daycare or whatever activity you’re headed to—so that hesitation can cause distraction and dragging feet. Setting a plan together, clearly defining each step, is the best way to mitigate those natural worries.

It’s Your Morning Routine, Too!

Plan ahead to make your own mornings easier too. I’ve always found making breakfast and lunch to be difficult and time-consuming in the rush of the morning. Try pre-making and freezing meals for quick breakfasts. For example, pancakes and waffles freeze well and reheat beautifully in the toaster or microwave. Maybe meals are easy for you, but it would help if you set your child’s clothes out before they go to bed. Maybe your child struggles to gather their folders, books, water bottle, and everything else as you head out the door, so you could help them pack their backpack the night before. Identify your pain points in the morning, and do what you can to make your job easier!

Give Them Choices

When possible, empower your child with choices. There are so many decisions that we make for our children every day: which school they will attend, what meals your family will eat, when bedtime will be, how much screen time they can have, and more. As parents, we’re entitled to make choices that concern our children’s safety and wellbeing. That said, kids thrive on feeling that they have some control over their lives, so when it is safe to do so, offer your child a choice.

Ask if they would prefer to eat breakfast first or get dressed first. If your child tends to resist getting dressed, set out two possible outfits and let them decide. Help your child understand what choices are available to them.

At our house, hair brushing is not optional—it’s just basic hygiene like teeth brushing—but they can choose if they want to brush their own hair or let me do it, and they can request a specific style. (“Do you want a ponytail or a braid today?”) And they can wear whatever shoes and clothes make them happy, but they must be appropriate to the weather. The trick is to ensure that the choices continue to move the child toward getting out the door, but also give them a sense of autonomy and power.

Make The Morning Routine Fun

Playing is obviously far more fun than getting ready. Children struggle with nearly every transition, so to go from playing to dressing or eating can be especially difficult. (Just think about the last time you willingly jumped out of bed and into your own morning routine with enthusiasm. Unless you have some particularly exciting plans—like your wedding day or a tropical vacation—it probably doesn’t happen often.) But if you can frame getting ready in a new, exciting way, you can make that transition a bit more tempting.

Morning Routines for Younger Children

For younger children, engage their imagination. My family loves the book How to Dress a Dinosaur. A clever mother asks her child to stomp his feet into his pant or reach his claws into his shirt, becoming a dinosaur at each step. This type of imaginative play makes the necessary chore of dressing into a game, and the child’s resistance melts away. Maybe they can pretend to be a dentist when they brush their teeth, checking for cavities. Maybe they want a side braid in their hair to match their favorite character from a popular Disney film.

Morning Routines for Older Children

For older children, a timer can be a great motivator. “Let’s see how long it take you to put on your socks and shoes. Ready, set, go!” Older children also have a better understanding of goals and rewards. Maybe finishing their morning routine in a certain time earns a sticker, or after a week of punctuality, you can plan a special activity together after school.

Try assigning a color or letter to each day of the week and ask your child to choose clothes and breakfast foods to fit the theme. For example, on blue day, they could wear a blue shirt and blue jeans and have yogurt with blueberries for breakfast.

These are just a few ideas, but the possibilities are endless. Remember, parents: Introducing a bit of fun should never make your job harder. You know your child and what will best motivate them, so be creative, but keep it simple.

Set Timers To Guide Your Morning Routine

Time is such a nebulous concept for kids. Before the age of seven, most children don’t know how to read a clock, much less how to estimate what an hour—or a minute—will feel like. Try setting timers for each phase of the morning routine. For example, you could say, “Okay, we need to be done with breakfast in twenty minutes. When the timer rings, it is time to put on your clothes.” However, just setting the timer is not usually enough for young children, who are very concrete thinkers. Visual timers (where the child can see the time winding down) help them understand the passage of time and the approach of deadlines. This could be a countdown clock (you probably have on your phone or home device), or a regular kitchen timer where they see the handle click down, down, down.

Help Them Understand Why Being on Time Is Important

Because children do not really understand the concept of time, the concept of punctuality is even more confusing. However, even young children can begin to understand the concepts of kindness and considering others’ feelings. Try to frame punctuality in terms of how it could impact their teachers and peers. Remind them that their teachers work very hard on the lessons they have planned for the day. “How do you think it makes your teacher feel when you choose to be late?” Ask your child if it might be distracting to other students who are trying to learn and concentrate if they come in late every day. And if all else fails, appeal to their natural FOMO: “School will start with or without you. How do you think you would feel if you miss something fun or important?”

Along with these considerations, always remember that there will be exceptions. Sometimes your family will be late for reasons outside of your control, and other families will be late too. Knowing the importance of punctuality is not an excuse to judge someone else who arrives late, but rather an opportunity to remember that everyone’s situation is different. We do the best we can, and we keep going with our day.

If You Are Late, Let It Go

When you’re at your wits’ end and you’ve finally piled everyone in the car, it can be so tempting to vent your frustration. A la “Thanks a lot for making us late! Why can’t you just put your shoes on when I ask?” Trust me; I’ve been there too! Take a breath. Take a beat.

It is nearly impossible to teach something in the heat of the moment. So this isn’t the time to drill down on the details of your routine. That conversation can and should happen. But it’s a conversation for another time. Instead, ask yourself what message—what feeling—you want your child to carry with them for the rest of the day? When my fight response has been triggered by a particularly difficult morning, I take a deep breath and remind myself, What’s done is done, and it can be better tomorrow. You’re on your way now. Being late doesn’t make you a bad mom.

To my kids, I say something like, “Let’s take a breath. This morning was hard, but today is going to be a good day. I love you.” What words do you need to hear? What words does your child need to hear? Give yourself and your kid some grace. We all need that.

A Perfect Morning Routine?

Even with all the tips and tricks in the world, your family won’t have a perfect morning routine overnight. But with patience and creativity, you can create a schedule that works for your family and puts everyone in a good mood for the day ahead.

Brooke Jorden earned a BA in English and editing from Brigham Young University. The author of If It Fits, I Sits: The Ultimate Cat Quotebook, I Dig Bathtime, and the Lit for Little Hands series, Brooke is also the editorial director at Familius.

Scroll to Top