Full disclosure: I fully dread the nagging and frustration that comes with micromanaging the morning routine for my kids. (I don’t know about you, but trying to direct school-prep and breakfast traffic while I’m trying to feed a baby–and myself!–is not my favorite way to start the day.)
This dread (and a little bit of exhaustion) is the honest to goodness reason that I worked out a way to get my kids doing more for themselves in the mornings. To my relief, I discovered that a little work up front could give my kids more independence, and me the freedom get dressed (alone!) before we pile into the car.
Over the years our morning routines have become so engrained in our family culture, that even when I overslept my alarm in a foggy newborn-baby-nursing-haze last year, the kids were still dressed and ready to go on time without needing my supervision.
I know it sounds to good to be true, but I promise–if you put in the time, you can get your kiddos running a little more independently, too. Let’s get started!
Creating a Self-Lead Morning Routine for Kids
We’re going to dive right in to the nitty-gritty of how to get this done, so if you’re on a tight schedule here’s a quick link to save it to Pinterest for later. If you’re ready to get started now, let’s go for it!
Here’s a quick breakdown of what makes starting a morning routine for kids successful:
- Make a (realistic!) list of all the things that need to get done in the morning.
- Calculate how long it will (really!) take to get done, and then choose a wake-up time.
- Set up simple systems to help make it happen.
- Teach your morning routine by walking your kids through it for a few days.
- Evaluate and make tweaks.
Next I’ll run through each of these list items with you, and we’ll get your routine up and running in no time!
1. Make a “Morning Routine” List
First things first: before you can do anything else, you need to know exactly what it takes to get those kiddos ready in the morning.
Grab a pen and start brainstorming! Pen in hand, go through the morning step-by-step in your mind and ask:
- What is the first thing you need your kiddo to do when he or she wakes up? If you have at toddler, you might want to be sure he gets to the bathroom ASAP so he doesn’t forget. Older kids you might be more concerned about getting that bed made before they’re off and running.
- What is the most realistic sequence of events? Grouping like tasks together helps routines flow. As soon as my kids finish breakfast, I encourage them to put their dishes in the sink–before they get into teeth-brushing mode and leave the table a mess.
Need help getting started? Here are a few ideas. (I divided by upstairs and downstairs but dividing by Bedroom, Bathroom, and Kitchen would work, too!)
- Make bed
- Use bathroom
- Take shower
- Get dressed
- Style hair
- Put away pajamas (hamper/drawer depending on cleanliness)
- Turn off bedroom light
- Go downstairs for breakfast
- Eat breakfast
- Clear place at table
- Brush teeth & hair
- Pack backpack (lunch from fridge & anything else left out from last night)
- Socks & shoes on
- Get in the car
2. Calculate how long it will (honestly) take
Rather than trying painfully to squeeze an entire morning routine into your current schedule, I strongly encourage you to do the numbers and work backwards from there.
Be realistic. I can down a bowl of cereal in ten minutes, but two of my kids can linger over their Raisin Bran for a good twenty-five and still be shocked when I tell them to finish up. Setting realistic time frames will save you from a lot of nagging. 🙂
PRO TIP: After you figure out realistic numbers add in extra padding time on top of it! This time leaves room for things like dawdling, lost shoes, spinning in circles for no apparent reason, and disputes over who actually owns the green-and-purple toothbrush. 🙂
Work backward to figure out wake-up times. Wait until you’ve figured out how much time your routine requires to set a wake-up time. Once you’ve gotten your timing right, THEN decide what time the kids need to get up in the morning.
We were constantly rushing last year and it drove me nuts. This year I set the kids’ alarms 15 minutes earlier, and now we have beds that are made AND a built-in cushion for those running-late days.
3. Set up simple systems to facilitate success
Do a quick mental run-through of your average morning. What things usually trip up your best-laid plans?
At our house, typical routine-ruiners are:
- Kids can’t remember their routine
- Socks left upstairs (forgotten during getting-dressed time)
- Not noticing when it’s time to finish breakfast or start getting ready to leave
Now do a quick brainstorm: how can you fix these problems? Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse or other mamas (or me!) for ideas.
Rather than keep fighting my losing battles, I set up some simple systems to make them easier to cope with:
- Forgetting the routine: I printed out a list and taped it up by their bedroom doors.
- Forgotten socks: All clean socks now go in a basket by the garage door after they’re washed. Socks and shoes can go on at the same time.
- Dawdling: As mentioned above, I build in extra time to our routine specifically anticipating that my kids will fall into the inevitable shiny-object trap.
- Not noticing the time: I took time-watching off my plate by setting two daily alarms on the Echo in our kitchen. These tip us off to move on to the next phase of getting ready. (Phone alarms work great for this, too.)
For the most part these little systems make our morning run way more smoothly.
Whenever something new starts bugging me, I look for ways to tweak our surroundings to work in our favor. 🙂
4. Teach the Morning Routine
Kids aren’t born knowing how to be self-starters, so once you’ve got your system set up, it’s time to teach. I usually quickly go over anything new with my kids the night before we implement it. Then the next morning, I facilitate.
Mostly this means I stand around and wait for someone to stray off course. Then I ask, “What’s next on your list?”
PRO TIP: Do NOT direct your kids with what to do next or read your kids’ routine for them! If they don’t know what’s next in their routine, tell them to go check their list. This will teach them to turn to their routine sheet for answers instead of peppering you with questions. (Woo hoo!)
You’ve done it! You’ve shifted some of that mental responsibility over to your kids (and taught them that they can be more independent in the process!).
Now sit back and watch your new routine start running, re-evaluating when you hit a snag or have a big change.
When you notice something throwing a wrench into your process, mentally run through steps 1-3 and see if (1) adding or removing a step, (2) making a time adjustment, or (3) creating a new little system might help.
Ready to get started? Grab a pen a scribble down your list!
Want to save this article for later? Add it to Pinterest!
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