No More Battles: Morning routines that work!

setting a morning routine

Over and over I hear from parents who feel like the life has been drained out of them before they’ve even made it through their morning coffee. Kids are sluggish and full of complaints from the moment they open their eyes; parents are nagging and panicking about being late (again); the whole family is angry and anxious and starts their day feeling awful. It doesn’t have to be this way! You can say goodbye to those morning battles and find a routine that works!

7 Tips for a Successful Morning Routine:

  1. Sleep. You know it and I know it. We are never going to be at our best when we’re tired. I know that this is easier said than done, but for your morning to go as smoothly as possible your kiddo AND you should be as well-rested as possible. It’s not enough to get one good night of sleep to make up for a weekend of late nights. That means working on your sleep hygiene, including going to sleep and waking up at the same times each day.
  2. Nourished Brain. Eat breakfast. The research is SO clear on this. Your child will be a more effective decision maker and have better attention and memory if they’ve eaten breakfast.  If your child rejects the notion of breakfast, try something sneaky… like a smoothie. It may not be ideal, but drinking their breakfast while getting ready may be easier than sitting down to eat for a child who would otherwise not eat at all. Relatedly, some kiddos’ brain chemistry is a whole lot more balanced with medication. If your child is taking medication, keep it consistent. Talk to your child’s prescribing practitioner. Ask about any tips they have for timing daily dosages to set them up for success. Also, speaking from experience with numerous teens and tweens, please help monitor their medication to ensure that they maintain consistency. Your child may be very responsible, but for some medications a missed dosage can have a lasting impact.
  3. Screen Time Limits. As I write this, kids all over the world are sitting in front of a computer most of their school day due to the necessity of distance learning. Parents are also exhausted and without childcare. What does that mean? A lot of screen time. Look, I am certainly not without compassion. However, too much screen time can cause epic cases of the grouchies, lead to lack of movement, and disrupt sleep. In excess, it can also wreak havoc on the frontal lobe of the brain. This is the part of the brain that helps us with things like planning, follow through and organization. I believe deeply in a few things when it comes to screen time: not all screen time is created equal (school is not the same as watching tv); screen time, when offered as a reward, makes us want it more; and  “Zoom Fatigue” is real. If your child will be using screen time in the morning before school, avoid it being a “reward,” consider your parameters carefully and check out some surprising secret solutions for setting screen time limits.
  4. Musical Associations. We are all creatures of habit and tend to respond predictably to cues in our environment. Think about it this way. Most of us have been exposed to one or another version of a clean up song often reserved for preschoolers. Have you ever witnessed it’s magic? When a teacher starts singing their version of the song, nearly all the students automatically go right into the task. They know what it symbolizes. These sorts of associations work for all ages and can work for any task. One easy way to do this is to create a household music playlist for the mornings (or have your child create one just for them). The lyrics don’t have to have anything to do with the specific task. The song itself will still operate as a symbol. You can time it out and designate, as a family, certain songs as markers for the start of a new activity. Just be sure that you use music that you enjoy and can tolerate listening to everyday.
  5. Visual Reminders. Technically, this is another form of association not so unlike the tip above. It’s one thing to “know” the routine and it’s another to follow it. Having the morning (or daily) routine written out or even displayed in pictures can give kids the reference point they need to re-orient themselves. I also find that visual reminders can take some of the pressure off of us to hold a list of tasks in our brain. This is great for reducing anxiety. It’s essentially a to-do list. In my household right now, we’re juggling several schedules. Some of these schedules change from one day to the next and can be really confusing! I find that having a morning huddle to review the day’s plan and reference the calendars we’ve put on our wall helps lower the morning anxiety and decrease the grouchies. The image included here is a sample of a weekly calendar that I might make in my practice with a family to help their young child know what they can look forward to during the week– fun activities, chores and tasks, tasty treats. You can include it all. Just be sure to keep some empty space and not overwhelm. Create Your Own Customizable Calendar!
  6. Individualized Routine. When I was still relatively new to the whole chaos of the morning routine with kids, I remember rigidly holding out on a morning routine. I was certain it made the most sense for us. Over time, however, I discovered that there was one task that always stopped us up in our household. We were late more times than I’d like to admit because brushing my preschoolers teeth near the end of the morning routine would go awry somehow. One day I was lamenting over it with a friend. She asked me– what if he brushed his teeth before breakfast? Before breakfast?! I could hardly fathom it. Then I considered the layout of my house. We would now end the routine closer to the front door. I also considered that my kid was food-motivated. He would do anything I asked with record speed to get to his first meal of the day. Suddenly, my friend’s suggestion seemed like such a brilliant solution! That’s my silly story about how I let go of rigidity. We found a morning routine that decreased our stress tenfold. You can do it, too.
  7. Be Kind to Yourself. Our children depend on us a great deal to help them regulate when they are overwhelmed by emotion. If you have a teenager, you know that the parent-child mood tangle is impactful, too. So, when I say “be kind to yourself” I mean seek support, take a moment for a few deep breaths, and find other ways to ensure that YOU are healthy and well. Your ability to regulate your own emotions during the morning routine (aka morning chaos) will be so much better if you are operating from a full cup. This will absolutely have an impact on your child’s mindset.

At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.

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