Mornings can be a chaotic time for families. The rush to get everyone ready and out the door on time can leave parents feeling stressed and overwhelmed before the day even begins. In fact, whenever I work with parents, the morning hustle is an area of concern that comes up again and again. Mornings with children can be HARD. And many parents end up yelling, threatening or bribing children in an effort to simply get out the door on time.
However, this often means parents start their work day feeling rushed, frazzled and disorganised. Many of them tell me they spend the day feeling guilty about the way they left things with their child.
And the children? They often head into school or childcare with their nervous systems already in a state of activation. Which means they are far from ready to learn, and it won’t take a lot for their already heightened nervous system to tip over into dysregulation.
However, things don’t have to be so chaotic in the mornings! A well-designed morning routine can completely transform your home, ensuring both you and your children are set up for success and heading off to work and school feeling connected, calm, and positive.
11 strategies for an effective morning routine with children
1) Lay the groundwork the night before
The foundation for a successful morning routine starts the previous evening. A little preparation ahead of time can make a huge difference in the morning rush. Here are some ideas:
- Plan outfits: Choose the next day’s outfits and lay them out. This eliminates indecision and reduces the chances of morning wardrobe disagreements.
- Pack lunches: Prepare lunches the night before to save time and ensure that nutritious meals are ready to go.
- Check backpacks: Have your children pack their school bags with all necessary items, reducing the last-minute scramble for missing homework or supplies.
- Set up breakfast: Set the table and have simple breakfast options like cereal or yogurt ready to streamline your morning meal routine.
2) Establish consistent wake-up times
Setting regular wake-up times for both you and your children helps regulate everyone’s internal clocks and makes it easier to wake up without feeling rushed. This also means ensuring everyone has a consistent bedtime that allows for each person to get the right amount of sleep for them!
3) Create a calm environment
Mornings don’t have to be synonymous with chaos. Cultivate a calm and peaceful atmosphere that sets a positive tone for the rest of the day. Here are some ideas:
- Wake up early: If you can, give yourself a quiet window of time before the children wake up to allow you to start the day on your own terms and gather your thoughts.
- Play soothing music: Soft, soothing music can create a relaxed atmosphere and help reduce stress in the morning.
- Limit screen time: Consider minimising screen time or even removing it entirely in the morning to encourage more meaningful interactions with your children and to reduce the arguments that inevitably happen when it’s time to switch it off!
4) Start with connection
One of the most powerful ways to foster a positive morning routine is to begin the day with connection. After a night apart, both you and your child can benefit from a few moments of closeness. This simple act of reconnecting sets the tone for the day, but also makes it more likely for your child to follow your lead as you move through your morning routine. Here are a few ways you can add connection to your morning routine:
- Morning cuddle time: Spend a few minutes cuddling with your child when they wake up. This physical closeness promotes feelings of security and love.
- Kitchen dance party: Put on your favourite song and spend a few minutes dancing around the kitchen with your children! Movement is a fantastic way to regulate the nervous system and to connect with each other at the same time.
- Breakfast chat: While having breakfast, engage in a meaningful conversation. Asking your children about their dreams, thoughts, or plans for the day, will allow them to feel valued and heard before you part ways.
5) Implement a visual schedule
Visual schedules can be particularly effective, especially for younger children who may not fully understand the concept of time. Create a visual timeline that outlines the morning routine step by step. Incorporate images or drawings to make it engaging and easy to follow. Using a visual schedule often takes the pressure off parents to always be moving children through the steps of the routine. Instead, children can take some responsibility for their own morning, which also builds feelings of competence and confidence!
6) Encourage age-appropriate autonomy
Children thrive when they are given some control and responsibility. Foster autonomy by involving them in the morning routine. Here are some ideas:
- Offer choices: Provide options – within certain limits – for things like breakfast, clothing, and even activities. For example, you can ask, “Would you like porridge or toast for breakfast this morning?” We are all more willing to cooperate when we feel we have some control or choice about what is happening!
- Assign morning jobs: Give your children simple, age-appropriate tasks they can complete on their own, such as making their beds, packing their lunchbox into their school bag, or setting the table for breakfast. Again, this helps children feel competent and like they are part of the team, which encourages cooperation
7) Allow extra time
Allow for buffer time to account for unexpected delays. This prevents the constant clock-watching and enables a more relaxed pace in the morning. To do this, start by listing out all the things that need to happen in the morning, and how long you think they might take. Then add an extra few minutes for each of those tasks (because you’re probably being generous). Now work backwards from there, to find out what time you might need to be up in order to get out the door without rushing (yes, it will – once again – probably be earlier than you think. Sorry!).
8) Prioritise a nourishing breakfast
A balanced breakfast fuels both the body and mind for the day ahead. If you can, try to opt for nutritious options that are quick to prepare. And don’t feel guilty about eating that breakfast on the go if you have to. There is nothing wrong with drinking a smoothie in the car if that’s what makes your mornings easier!
- Get a head start by preparing items like smoothie ingredients or overnight oats the previous night. Even getting cups out for coffee, or setting bowls and spoons on the bench ready for cereal can save you precious time in the morning.
- Involve the children: Let your children have a say in their breakfast, encouraging them to make mindful choices and to think about what their bodies might need to fuel them for the day.
9) Cultivate Positivity
Set a positive tone for the day and nurture your child’s emotional well-being at the same time by focusing on fostering a positive mindset each morning. These activities can be done during breakfast and don’t have to take extra time out of your morning! Here are a few ideas you might like to try:
- Morning affirmations: Repeat positive affirmations for a boost of confidence before the day starts. Try to make them relevant to each person to ensure they really work!
- Practice gratitude: Encourage your children to express gratitude for the day ahead. This helps shift their focus toward the positives, encourages them to think about what they are looking forward to for the day, and leaves them feeling good about what’s to come.
10) Lead by example
Children will follow your example, so think about what you need in the morning to BE who you want to be and set the example you’d like them to follow. If you are feeling calm and relaxed, they will too!
- Model regulation skills: If you are feeling annoyed, or frustrated, or tired in the morning, practice your own regulation skills out loud. Express to your child how you might be feeling, as well as what you’re going to do to manage it. For example, you could say, “I’m feeling frustrated right now, so I’m going to take 3 deep breaths and then try again.”
- Manage your own stress: Incorporate stress-reduction techniques like meditation, exercise, or mindfulness into your own morning routine to more effectively manage your stress levels.
11) End with connection
Before everyone heads their separate ways for the day, take another moment to connect. It may be a simple kiss and hug goodbye, a secret handshake, or a playful ritual you complete together before they head into school. This can help children with the huge transition of separating from you for the day and ensure they feel secure and loved before you part.
Creating a positive morning routine requires consistency and a bit of effort up front, but once it’s in place, the benefits to you and your child are enormous. With a well-structured routine, you can transform your mornings from chaotic to enjoyable and set the stage for a successful day for both you and your children. But please remember, these are only ideas – not a prescription! Do what works best for you and your family and try to remember that it’s not about perfection; it’s about cultivating a sense of calm, connection, and positivity to kick off each day on the right note.
Sarah Conway is a child and adolescent psychologist, mother of 4, and founder of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 15 years of experience working in mental health with children, teenagers, and families. Sarah’s mission is to help parents move away from punitive parenting strategies and towards mindful, intentional parenting that builds emotional intelligence in children and parents alike. As a busy mum herself, she knows firsthand how difficult mindful parenting can be, particularly when it was never modelled by our own parents. That’s why she provides parents and children with simple, practical strategies and tools that help them learn to manage emotions – together. She believes that changing the way we parent will change the world.