How to Have Great Mornings with Your Kids

Mornings with kids can be miserable. Especially when you have places to be and things to do. Nagging, fighting, & whining at first light can mess-up an otherwise perfectly good day. Scrambling to get lunches packed, breakfast swallowed, shoes on, and teeth brushed.

You’re gonna miss the bus! Put down the iPad! You’ll be late for school! Where is your jacket? Why aren’t you wearing pants anymore?! The bus is here!

You’re stressed. They’re stressed. Tears shed by all. Maybe you yelled a little. Maybe junior threw his yogurt at that cat you never wanted. Mistakes were made.

It’s ok. You’re in a no-judgement zone. We’ve all been there.

Hey, if you really want help, we’re testing a new format. Check out the bottom of this post to sign up for a few select emails over the next few weeks with quick tips to keep you on track.

Now, let’s look at some ways we can make things go a bit smoother, shall we?

TL;DR – How to have Mostly Better Mornings

Don’t want to commit to this full morning makeover? Maybe you don’t need GREAT mornings, just middling-to-good ones? I totally get it. That’s reasonable. Life will dramatically improve by following these Mostly Good Morning Steps:

  • Snuggle Time

    Spend 5 minutes of quality, uninterrupted time snuggling and chatting with your kids first thing each morning. (Tip: You can do this in their bed if you like, but if it’s hard to get them out of bed, move snuggle time to the couch. They’ll hunt you down like the helpless animal you are.)

  • Healthy Food

    Make sure your kids have a high-protein and super nutritious breakfast RIGHT AWAY. Here are some fast, healthy and cheap ideas for breakfast, but really make sure they don’t start their day with just carbs. Try and get those healthy proteins and fats in there as well. Double points if you offer them choices first thing to avoid a power struggle.

  • Stay positive

    Kids are lunatics. So, don’t take it personally when they dump cereal in the heating vent and/or pee on the dog. Be their coach; cheer and praise when they get ready in any way on their own and on time; kindly assist on the tough stuff until they get the hang of getting ready without your help.

Now, for or those of y’all that want to go a few steps further to have really amazing mornings with your kids, here’s the rollout.

Full-Blown Morning Makeover FTW!

So, you want the magic recipe for a fresh-n-cheery 90s-sitcom-styled morning routine? By being slightly more purposeful, you will save yourself both time and misery each morning.

Note: Look, I know it’s easy to read this and blow it off. But just try the prescription for a week. It’ll only take a few days to make it a habit… And when your kids gracefully slide into life each morning versus crashing into it, everyone’s days go smoother.

Good Mornings Start the Night Before

Kids need somewhere between 9 to 13 hours of sleep. Lengthy rest is a necessary ingredient to a grand morning. What? Your bedtimes are a disaster? No problem check out this Mostly Amazing Night Time Routine.

Is your kid always running around looking for their favorite owl-themed shirt and matching argyle socks? Then help set out those next day’s clothes before bedtime. Homework flung everywhere? You got it, pack it all up and have it hung by the door the night before. Have an 8-year-old? They can make their own lunch before bed and pop it in the fridge.

Be proactive instead of reactive. The more you schedule and prep the evening before, the less you need to do in the morning. So, before heading off to sleep or watching season two of Big Mouth, get clothes washed, breakfast prepped, and jacket findable. Don’t forget to sign that field-trip permission slip to Gobbler’s Knob so they can see Punsxutawney Phil. Doing a little bit of work on the front-end will probably take less than 15-minutes.

Get up, wake up… wake up before your kids

Get yourself up, coffee’d up, and in cheerful anticipation of your children poking their heads out of their cave (I like to wake up right at 6:00am to Sonny and Cher’s “I got you babe,” but that’s just me). Your children will feel secure and cozy when they see you bushy-tailed and ready to help them start the day. Not a morning person? That’s what coffee is for (on second thought, maybe make it a double)! And you absolutely don’t need to be up and at ‘em an hour ahead of your kids. Just 10 minutes is more than enough for you to “set the stage” as explained below.

Set the Stage

Where does your family usually gather? Living room? Maybe the kitchen? Wherever the heart of your house is, get it all feng shui’d-up for an enviable morning by following some simple yet wildly important guidelines:

  • No screens!

    Absolutely keep the TV off. Hide all phones and tablets. Those shimmering pixels will hypnotize your kids into doing nuthin’ all morning. They instead become a bitter blend of lazy and agitated. You know it’s true, and sweet sweet science backs this up. Also, unplugged mornings will improve academic performance and prosocial behaviors.

  • Keep the lights low and soft

    No need to have every bulb blaring in the house. Flip on a few couch-side lamps. Turn up the heat, flip on the gas fireplace, or plug in a space heater. However you do it, get the room cozy and warm.

  • Play relaxing lyric-free classical or jazzNothing boisterous! Keep the Beethoven and Vivaldi flowing low enough that you can talk calmly over it. Both Amazon and iTunes have great playlists like Classical Music For Reading or Jazz Hangover. The meditative flow will center and calmly inspire your kids, or my name isn’t Chris “Manwich” Sullivan.

  • Set out some activities

    Toss out some relatively peaceful activities for your kids to do. Make crayons and paper accessible and visible. Fan-out some choice books on the couch. If your kids are in to puzzles, put those out too. Legos are perfect. It’s all about quiet! So, no battery-powered robots, or remote-controlled helicopters, or cap guns if those still exist. Loud, annoying stuff equals loud, annoying kids. Quiet, peaceful stuff equals quiet, peaceful kids.

Ok, so now you’re up and jacked on coffee. Quiet music is playing; the joint is warm and cozy; books, puzzles, crayons and paper are ready for cheerful utility. You are a truly great and prepared parent. This took but a few paltry minutes and 1/2 an Americano.

Greet them warmingly

Now, as kids wander to you from beds, follow these steps for optimum success and happiness:

  • Snuggle time

    Even if your kids are gangly tweens, they aren’t too old for a bunch of hugs-n-snugs in the early morn. In fact, it’s very needed daily to maintain connection and decrease stress. So, take 5 or 10 minutes to be all hugged-up on the couch. Hug ‘em till they squirm away.

  • Get them eating

    Your kids just went food-free in their beds for about 12 hours or so. They have crazy low-blood sugar and will be as cruel as a winter storm without some nutrition. They shouldn’t be up longer than 15 minutes without some GOOD food in their systems.

    Pro Tip: offer a couple breakfast choices to avoid power struggles. Your kid is more likely to eat if provided 2 or 3 breakfast options. And whenever possible, avoid breakfasts that are mostly carbs and sugar. Try and get some healthy fats and healthy protein in them. "So, Skippy, would you like to start your day with yogurt and blueberries or eggs and toast?")

    Either of these can be whipped-up and consumed in a few minutes. Here are some inexpensive, nutritious, quick breakfast options that’ll set y’all up for success.

  • Remind them of morning options

    "Hey, Rita, I put out _______ (crayons, paints, Legos, puzzles). Make a choice and I'll let you know when it's time to get ready for school." Note: My kids don’t need to be to school until 9am and we have a 5-minute commute. They usually wake up around 7am, so they need lots of activities. Adjust your activity time according to how long they’re awake before needing to leave the house. For example,I know of a cruel and ghoulish school that starts at 7:30am! So the kids need to be up before 6:45. This really only allows for 10 minutes of activity time at best.

  • Give the heads up

    "In 10-minutes we need to put on clothes, brush teeth, and get ready to go." As kids have about the same sense of time as an Irish Setter, use these timers as a visual reminder of the passage of time. They’ll save you from tantrums and power struggles. Your kids may argue with you but will not argue with time.

  • Game time

    "Ok time to get ready, Larry & Ned! We leave in 15 minutes. Please put on your clothes, coat, shoes, and brush teeth. If you're ready by the door, I have something cool for both of you!"

Stay focused on the success

This is time get up off the couch, track your kids, and notice the behavior you want more of. So be very present for these 10 to 15-minutes. It’ll save you misery and help get you out the door on time. Depending on your kid’s age, they may need your help tying shoes, brushing teeth, or zipping the jacket. Be helpful. Be positive.

Sentence frames to try

      • "Wow, you are getting ready so quickly!"
      • "Did you tie (try to tie) your shoes all by yourself"
      • "You are really doing a great job brushing your teeth"
      • "How can I help you finish getting ready?"

Note: You’re not spending this time chastising them or rushing them along. You’re helping them, encouraging them, and acknowledging them for what they do well on their own. Ignore the stuff you don’t like, focus and praise them when they do it well, on time, or by themselves.

All the while, give time reminders

      • "OK", 10 minutes left. We're doing great!"
      • "5 minutes left. Looks like shoes are on and teeth are clean. Great job!!"
      • "Two minutes left. Get those coats on. You can do it!"

Do a dramatic and very positive FINAL COUNTDOWN. It’s a fun and very effective game. Sometimes I do this with a very slow countdown from 10 (that actually takes about a minute). I’ve also periodically played the themes from I Dream of Jeannie or Bojack Horseman. Theme songs are great because they’re about 45 seconds, providing an auditory indicator of how much time is left to be ready by the door. Tell your kids that by the end of the song they need to be at the door, with shoes on, teeth brushed, and back pack in hand (or whatever).

After they’re ready to go, make sure to acknowledge the great behavior!

      • "Wow, that was faster than ever!"
      • "Thank you for getting ready so quickly."

Verbal acknowledgment is definitely enough, but if you’d like to reward them for successfully completing the morning routine, keep it simple and NO SUGAR. Give your kids something they can use in school or at least something that’s not distracting, like a superball or a puppy. Kids like cool pencils, erasers, stickers, etc. You may not care about them ‘cause you’re a grown-up, but having taught children 3 to 12 over the span of many years, I can tell you that all kids flip-out over 3D animal stickers no matter what. Don’t believe me? Try ‘em.

Pro Tip: For the first week, start an extra 10-15 minutes early if you can. This way you’ll have a bit extra time to get them used to you not barraging them with threats. They’ll eventually learn those simple reminders are all they’ll get, and they’ll adjust themselves; but at first, give yourself a bit of an extra buffer.

Example Schedule:

6:50: Parent Wake-Up/ Set the Stage
7:00: Kids Wake-up/ Snuggle Time
7:15: Eat Breakfast
7:30: Quiet Activity Choices
8:00: Ten-Minute Heads Up
8:10: Get-Ready
8:30: Leave for School

Again, this schedule assumes a departure time of 8:30 and that very well might not be your situation. If your kids’ school starts earlier, then you’ll need to adjust the times accordingly. If you’re short on morning time, truncate the Quiet Activity Choices time and NEVER the snuggle time. Most importantly, be consistent with whatever schedule you create. Push it out an hour on weekends, but keep the routine consistent whenever possible—even if that means just leaving the house for a walk to the park or a trip to the store. That’ll make Mondays run much smoother.

Explaining It All to Your Child

Now, before you try this first thing tomorrow morning on sleep-walking zombies, communicate it! A day or two before you initiate your new plan, sit down with your child when they are cheerful and receptive. Explain that you’re going to work together to have a healthy breakfast, do some fun activities, and get out the door on time! Remember, explain this happily and with a song in your heart. This is not a punishment. This is fun! Right?

Here’s an example of how to frame it

"Tomorrow when you wake up we'll have cinnamon rolls and eggs! You get to put on the frosting! We won't be watching TV in the morning anymore. What would you rather do tomorrow, Legos or watercolors."

Great, you set up the writhing anticipation of deliciousness (cinnamon rolls), nixed the TV time, and then immediately offered cool choices before they could flip out!

"I'm going to help you get your clothes on and teeth brushed to be on time for school. If you try your best, I have an awesome prize for you."

Y’all are in it together! You’ll help them monitor time and get ready by the door. It’s not all on them. This is so positive and fun, like a game. They’ll want to know what the prize is. Don’t tell ‘em. Need stuff to start off with? Try this.

As a teacher and principal, I’ve suggested variations on this routine many times to parents. Many of these parents tell me that they just aren’t morning people (again, that’s what caffeine remedies) or that it sounds like a bunch of work. It’s not. It’s actually more work—emotionally draining work—to fight your sleepy, whining kids out the door each morning for some underpaid educator to deal with. Remember: this may take all y’all a week to adjust to, but after that it’s MOSTLY smooth sailing (No matter what, parents and kids are people and people are sometimes jerks. Nothing works all the time). So, try it. Really try it. It’s like exercise: painful at first, but then suddenly you got oiled-up beach abs.

Let’s Review

Set the Stage

      1. Try and get them to bed early enough to make sure they’ll be getting 10-12 hours of sleep
      2. Have the day’s clothes set out for them ahead of time if needed
      3. Breakfast is started, the light’s low, fireplace or heater warming up the room, and light music is playing
      4. Set out a few quiet activities for them to engage with if you have extra time in the morning

Wake them greet them with love

      1. Snuggle time for 5-10 minutes to connect with them
      2. Feed them
      3. Remind them of how much time they have, and set a timer for their activities
      4. Give them a warning and then notify them when it’s time to get ready

Game time

      1. Remind them of what they need to do to get ready
      2. Praise them upon completion of each step when they do it without whining or hassle
      3. Help them with when they need help. But stay positive throughout
      4. Commence with a final countdown that keeps moods high while putting a little pressure on the last few steps
      5. Praise them and give them a little surprise if they are ready on time
      6. Send them out the door and consider having a celebratory shot

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    • My kids WON’T get out of bed at all. I take their covers and they stay right in bed.

      Ever notice how kids don’t stay in bed on Christmas morning? That’s because jolly and inviting things await in the living room. Not every day can be a holiday, I get it. But you can make getting-up better than being in bed EVERYDAY. How? Make the living room or “heart” of your house warm and full of good sounds and smells each morning. That’s where the snuggling is and that’s what they want most. For extra strength luring, fire-up pancakes, waffles, bacon, or those super tasty cinnamon rolls from Trader Joe’s. Sound like too much work? It’s not. Even if you’re lazy or a terrible cook, that stuff can all be bought ready-to-eat on the cheap. Just heat-n-serve in a couple minutes. Your kids WILL wander out of bed toward the smell of bacon and the promise of hugs. I promise.

    • How do you actually “wake up” your kids? If they’re asleep, do you come in with a bullhorn? Gently shake them every three minutes until they smell the bacon? When it’s dark and cold and early, expecting kids to just smell yogurt and blueberries isn’t practical.

      Your kids will naturalize to the schedule quickly and this just won’t be a problem. On the front-end, open the blinds or curtains, or whatever. Have to get up in the dark ‘cause your kids’ school starts at 7:00am? Then use a light alarm clock. Rather than rattled awake by jarring beeping, these clocks mimic the natural wake cycle caused by natural light. Your kids’ room will get super sunny, they’ll hear music and your voices from the heart of the house and will scamper quickly for hugs-n-food. If it’s cold and dark in the rest of the house, they’ll move even quicker toward the warmth and light.

Mostly Team Effort

Mostly Team Efforts are collaborative articles that often bounce between experts, our own Chris Sullivan, questions from parents (ourselves, or friends of ours), and our advisors. But we love your questions and suggestions, so please let us know what you think.

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