The morning routine is tough on a lot of families. If you’re struggling to get your kids off to school each day, you are not alone. At Empowering Parents, we hear this every day from parents just like you. Morning wrestling matches—arguments, battles of will, power struggles—happen for every family. The good news is that you can turn your mornings around. And although your kids may not thank you for it, everyone will benefit.
Maybe you started the school year on the right foot. All those late summer discussions about your kids getting organized, laying their clothes out the night before, getting out of bed on time, fixing their own breakfast, getting through the morning without arguments—you thought you got through to them. And maybe things went relatively smoothly—for the first few days.
But here we are, in the middle of the school year, and all those old behaviors are back. Your child might have even added some new annoying behaviors to the mix!
Here are some practical tips to help mornings go a little more smoothly for everyone.
Discuss the morning routine and your expectations with your kids, but don’t do it in the morning! Even if you’re a morning person, it’s still not the best time to discuss what’s not working. Set some time aside to discuss your rules and expectations, clearly laying out what’s not working, and what needs to change.
When your morning gets stressful, refer your child back to the conversation you’ve already had rather than get into another argument.
In The Total Transformation Program, James Lehman suggests redirecting your child by saying:
“We’ve discussed this already. You know what you need to do; now go do it.”
There are a million things you want your child to do better, and not just during the morning routine. But, kids get overwhelmed when you come at them with a long list of things they’re doing wrong.
Think of it this way: if your boss comes to your desk and rattles off 16 things you need to improve, you’re going to be overwhelmed (and annoyed).
Give your child a chance to gain skills and confidence by focusing on one or two behaviors that need to change. Choose the top two annoying morning behaviors and come up with a specific action plan to address those behaviors.
Talk with your child about what they can do to improve those one or two things and help them figure out ways to meet your expectations.
It’s not enough to tell your child, “You need to remember your homework.” Your child needs to know exactly what they can do differently to remember their homework.
To help build organizational skills, give specific action steps rather than vague directions. Talk through some ideas together. If they can do things the night before to prepare for the morning, make sure those are clear.
The key to a successful morning routine is to know precisely what needs to be done and in what order. Specific tasks and a clear system help everyone stay on track with minimal discussion.
Many parents work way harder than their kids do on the tasks their kids ought to be doing. They wake their child up five times every morning and remind them repeatedly that they need to make their lunch or pack their gym bag.
The good news is, you can stop working so hard. Look, it isn’t working anyway. If you’ve had a clear discussion about your rules and expectations for the morning routine, all you need to do in the morning is remind your child of the rules and the consequences.
In the beginning, you may need to do some coaching, but resist that urge to jump in and do the work for them.
Your child’s school has rules and expectations for their students. Most likely, there are consequences in place for students who don’t meet those expectations. This is a great opportunity for you to step out of the drama and allow someone else to enforce the rules.
If your child habitually shows up late, don’t protect them from detention or other consequences. If your child brings up a last-minute homework assignment, don’t fix it. Let them deal with the consequences from their teachers.
This is tough for some parents, but it shows your child there are natural consequences for their actions. Remember, your child is the one who needs to work harder at getting to school on time or finishing their assignments on time.
As James Lehman explains in The Total Transformation, you’ve been through all this in your own childhood—you don’t need to do it all again.
How does this work in practice? If your child springs last-minute homework on you in the morning, you can say:
“Homework gets done after school, not before school. You’ll need to tell your teacher that you haven’t finished it.”
Keep your child responsible for their own actions and the results of those actions. James calls this a culture of accountability, and it’s a key part of a healthy family system.
There’s no good time to get into an argument with your child, but the early hours of the day may be the worst time. No one needs extra drama in the morning, especially not you.
Instead of getting into daily morning arguments, remind your child of the rules, give them a little bit of coaching, and step out of the way. Arguments only delay things that are already taking far too long. Know that you don’t have to attend every argument that you’re invited to.
If your morning struggles go beyond average annoying behaviors, be sure to seek more help. Parents of kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and other challenges may need more specialized coaching to help them improve their behaviors.
So remember to be clear and consistent, coaching your child rather than engaging in battles of will. With some patience and practice, your family’s mornings can be a lot less stressful.
Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, former Empowering Parents Parent Coach, speaker and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at refugeingrief.com, where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.