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10 Tips for a Less Stressful Morning

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Kate Lussen, ISTP's Assistant Head of School, offers some strategies she has found useful for reducing stress as she gets her daughters out the door in the morning.

One of the most challenging times of the day for parents is getting everyone out of the house in the morning. It is a struggle I know well - with a long commute and an early start time, I often have about 25 minutes from when my children wake up to when we need to be on the road. Paired with that, one of my children and I are morning people, while the other one and their dad are not exactly as enthusiastic at 6:00 am.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of strategies. Here are my top 10 that have had staying power:

1. Prep ahead – Do as much as possible the night before - pick out clothes, make sure homework is put back in the backpack, a sweater/jacket is ready, and everything is set for the next day. Somehow doing this before bed seems to be more efficient than in the morning, when it feels like “the whole day is ahead, so why rush?” to a young child. 

2. Encourage independence – Ask your child to do as much of the above as possible. I give them guidelines about appropriate snacks, but when they have a choice, they are more likely to eat it - even the veggies! Making their belongings their responsibility is a valuable skill that can be learned at a young age. Giving them agency to choose also naturally helps them assume responsibility.

3. Early bedtime – Getting at least 10 hours (even up to 12 for kids under 6 years old) is essential, and one of the best ways to improve demeanor and behavior overall. If you have a pattern of a late bedtime, you can gradually move it earlier, by 15 minutes every few nights, so that the change is not as noticeable.

4. Routine – Routine is something children crave, even if they can’t articulate it, or seem to push against structure. Going to bed at the same time (perhaps in the same half hour window) every night will allow your child to wake up around the same time every morning. Continue the routine into your morning by having your child get ready in the same order every day. 

5. Visual Checklist – Sometimes all of the above is made far easier with visuals. A chart (homemade on a whiteboard or store bought) can help children break the morning down into manageable parts. For example:

  • Get dressed
  • Go potty
  • Wash hands/face and brush teeth
  • Get breakfast
  • Water bottle
  • Long sleeves and shoes on
  • Backpack and lunch
  • Get in the car

6. Easy healthy breakfast – I fully believe in a healthy breakfast, and have gotten creative about how to accomplish that on the go. Healthy muffins, yogurt, or perhaps a quick egg sandwich are some of our go-to morning foods. 

7. Minimize or schedule play time – I am a huge fan of time to play, but that can also make it much harder to get out of the house in the morning. If you have the luxury to have more time at home, set aside a specific amount of time for play, and make it a part of the routine, so that the end time is very clear.

8. Clarify who does what – Making mornings a team effort can not only help get you out of the house on time, but can also build essential life skills and cooperation. Giving each person a clear job gives them something to feel responsible for and proud of upon completion. Humans generally thrive on feeling a part of a team and helping others, so establishing this in a family is a great way to help your little humans become kind and helpful. It can be small tasks - one of my girls fills and carries the water bottles, the other makes sure we have some healthy snacks in our “snack bag.”

9. Build in a buffer – When we are all on the top of our game, we can get out of the house amazingly fast. That happens once in a blue moon. One of my girls might be fighting a cold and sleeps longer than usual. Or one might wake up on the wrong side of the bed and decide that nothing is right. I might spill my morning shake all over me and the kitchen floor and need to change my own outfit… and so on. So after about a year of being perpetually 10 minutes late, I set my alarm 10 minutes earlier and shifted our process back, in order to have a buffer. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.

10. Breathe – Sometimes mornings are hard. Sometimes it feels like everyone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or it is all great until the last 5 minutes, which turn into 15 or 20 because someone forgot something or got upset or the dog ate the homework. Our tendency is to become frustrated, raise our voices, tell our kids how late we are, and spiral into general frustrated chaos. When it does, those are the most important times to remember to pause and breathe. If the parent can step back, take some deep breaths, reset - even if it takes a minute or two, not only are we setting a great example for our children, but likely we’ll get it sorted out faster. We’ll see some solutions, we’ll calm our children, and be able to get on to a good day.

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