We’ve all been there. Either as a parent or a child ourselves, we’ve all experienced the stress that accompanies a frantic and rushed morning, an exasperating battle to get the kids out the door, and the hectic day that follows. For most of us, that first-day-of-school early morning alarm is simply not an easy one. Transitions are hard, and adjustment takes time. This can be said doubly for kids.
Yet, there are many ways to make this adjustment period so much easier and way more fun for your kids! Here are five tips on how to transform those stressful and chaotic get-out-the-door scrambles into blissful and harmonious mornings that you get to spend with your kids before they go to school—or at least closer to that.
1. Get Up Early
This goes for you and your child. Not just day 1 of the start of the school year; start shifting your schedule earlier a couple of days before. Shifting your schedule gradually starts when it's 30-minutes from your child’s bedtime. Start setting those boundaries for bedtime early on in the night, and limiting exposure so screen time so that it decreases the chance that your child will fight going to bed on time. According to the Sleep Foundation, preschoolers (ages 3-5) need between 10-13 hours of sleep per night, and school-agers (ages 6-13) need between 9-11. “Lack of sufficient sleep at a young age has been correlated with problems with weight, mental health, behavior, and cognitive performance,” (Suni, 2022). This will clearly vary from child to child, but you know your child best and have set your child’s bedtime with their well-being in mind—so stick to it. Your morning self will thank you.
2. Set a Morning Routine
As parents and caregivers, it is so important that we recognize the difference between what we know and what our kids know. It happens all too often that we don’t even stop to explain something to our children because we assume that they already know. While we know what “being ready for school means,”, do not assume your child knows. Odds are, there are at least some discrepancies between the two definitions. So sit down with your child before the first day of school and write it out together. Make a morning routine together, letting them be a part of it as much as possible.
With kids at any age, it is so important to let them feel as though they have some amount of control over themselves and their environment—this is one area where you can give it to them.
The morning routine that you come up with might look something like this:
Wake up with hugs and kisses
Look out the window and name the first animal you see (Integrating creative tasks can be a great way to make the routine seem more like a fun activity and less like a chore)
Make the bed
Brush hair/brush teeth
Put your lunch in your backpack
Put on shoes
You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes when your child knows exactly what “being ready” means and has it all mapped out ahead of time.
3. Promote Autonomy
Remember, kids love having a sense of control—as a parent, it’s okay to take advantage of this. Not in a bad way, of course—your child learns best when given a little bit of independence, and it can really help you out as a parent as well! Take a step or two that your child is struggling with in their morning routine—for example, getting dressed. Let them do as much of it on their own as they can; only help after you’ve given them enough time to struggle with it for a bit (the struggle is how we learn). Let them know that you’ll help them with their pants and socks after they have finished dressed in everything else. If your child is only struggling to pick out an outfit for school, pick out one ahead of time for them, but let them get dressed independently. For children, this isn’t just a way to take a task off of your list of things to do—it’s a way to teach them how to do things on their own and motivate them in doing these tasks. Independence isn’t just the goal; it’s the motivator.
4. Make It Exciting!
Ideally, the first day of school should always be an exciting thing for your kids. Getting a new teacher, a new classroom, entering a new grade, and seeing their friends are hopefully things that your child genuinely looks forward to at the start of a new school year. Yet sometimes this excitement is not quite enough to jumpstart those productive school mornings and get your kiddos out of bed with a smile—so you have to help it out a little. To make your kids count down the days till the start of school with more eager anticipation, save a few special items for the first week of school. Things like new accessories, new shoes, favorite breakfast items, and even new school supplies can be things that will increase your child’s excitement for the first day of school.
Integrating that autonomy piece again—let your child pick it out themselves. Give them a choice within limits and honor whatever that choice is. If you tell them that they can pick whatever they want to eat for breakfast on the first day of school, you better be prepared to feed them gummy bears and rainbow ice cream. Setting sensible limits can look like letting them pick any type of cereal that they want or letting them pick out a pair of new shoes to wear on the first day of school. Remember to build the anticipation, by holding off on using these new items or privileges. That way, when the alarms go off in the early morning on the first day of school, your kids will be eager to jump out of bed.
5. Allow for Natural Consequences
Likely the most difficult tip on this list for loving parents to implement. As parents, we want to shelter our kids from the less-than-ideal aspects of the world as best as we can and, while this is normal and well-intentioned, it’s not possible. The world isn’t neat and tidy, it’s not always fair or friendly, and the actions that we take almost always have consequences. That’s going to continue to be true for the rest of your child’s life, so it’s an important lesson to teach your kids while they are still young and these lessons are still gentle. For example, If your child refuses to eat a sufficient breakfast, then they may feel hungry at school and next time they might consider taking a few more bites. If they stay up late on a school night, the natural consequence will be that they feel tired the next day.
Natural consequences will exist for the rest of their lives—letting them experience them is not harsh, it’s the way we teach them how to live and succeed in an imperfect world. They will be so grateful that they learned these lessons while they were young and still living at home, rather than having to find them out on their own later in life.
We get it, these 5 simple tips are not likely to take your morning from absolute anarchy to peaceful serenity… at least not every morning. Transitions are tough and take time. We are all human and humans are messy, and sometimes mornings are just hard no matter what; but we hope these parenting hacks will give your family small moments in the mornings feeling a little less stressed and frantic.
Suni, E. (2022). How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need? The Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/how-much-sleep-do-kids-need#:~:text=The%20NSF%20advises%20that%20school,9%2D11%20hours%20every%20day.