Weekday Mornings With Kids Are Hard. Here's How To Make Them Less Painful.

Concrete advice from real parents on how to get out the door in the morning without nagging or yelling.
Mornings with children can be stressful. Here's how real parents cope.
Fly View Productions via Getty Images
Mornings with children can be stressful. Here's how real parents cope.

If your family is anything like mine, weekday mornings are madness. Honestly, I’m not totally sure why. My 6-year-old early-riser gets up three hours before school starts, so we have plenty of time. And I’m so grateful that both of my children are finally back in school full time that you’d think I’d be a bit more zen about the a.m. scramble.

Still, the rush to get out the door is chaos. My boys yell at each other and I yell at them. I nag. More often than not, they do end up at school on time. But it always feels like an unnecessarily crazed race to get there.

I’d very much like to change this pattern and find have some peace and togetherness before school and work — if not every day, then at least sometimes. So, I asked members of the HuffPost Parenting community to share what they do to make mornings less stressful and to cultivate more of a connection.

Here’s what they had to say:

Make a list

The most popular morning hack parents sent in is pretty darn simple, really: Make a list of what needs to get done in the morning so everyone is clear.

Some parents get artistic with it. “I drew it up on a big piece of paper in rainbow colors,” said Mesa. “You can get even more creative and make a pocket for each item and move a popsicle stick to each item achieved.”

Alane said she used Canva to design a chart that she then laminated — and that provides a “central source of truth of what we do each morning and day.” “Because it’s lamented,” she added, “he can even take a dry erase marker and check off what we’ve done so far to further help him understand where we are in the schedule.”

No matter what it looks like, the chart or list is about minimizing nagging.

“For my 6-year-old, we’ve created a routine chart (with pictures) that is posted on his bedroom wall. It goes over all the steps he must complete before doing anything extra, such as playing with Legos, watching TV or reading a book,” said Sheridan. “When he is starting to do something and I know he hasn’t done all of his steps, I calmly say ‘check your chart.’”

Prepare the night before

“I think weekday mornings with kids are about planning ahead — early to bed, lunches packed, soccer, ballet, tennis gear all packed,” said Busi. Her other top tip is cutting everyone slack and recognizing that some mornings will be rushed and cranky, no matter what. (“We have to forgive ourselves,” she said. “And forgive them.”)

Other parents emphasized the importance of getting kids involved in the preparations. “On school nights before you start the bedtime routine, are the children participating with you to get organized for the next morning?” asked Andrea. “Is everything by the door they need to leave?”

Vickie, who said she hates packing lunches, bought two bins that the family fills with nonperishable snack and lunch items for the week. Every night, her children pick something from that bin and put it in their lunch bag.

Have “everything ready and laid out the night before — by them, with your help,” said Rachel, who uses the same idea. “This is a big one.”

Let them sleep in their clothes

Liz is a nurse who has to be out of the house early in the morning. Her partner (a teacher) also has an early start. So, to cut down on morning stress, they forgo PJs. Instead, her kids “get dressed in their clothes for the next day right before bed,” Liz said. “While I wouldn’t choose to sleep in khakis, my children don’t seem to mind!”

Point out when they’re doing something good

According to Scott, father of kids ages 15, 18 and 20, and an early-childhood psychologist, simply pointing out when kids are doing something positive in the morning can go a long way in making things more pleasant (and effective!) for everyone.

It is “very easy to get off track and focus on negatives, [like]: ’stop that, don’t do that,’” he said. Instead, catch your kids when they’re being helpful and cooperative and praise them, which will encourage them to do it even more.

Experiment with timers

Kira, who has a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, asks her kiddos how long they think they’ll need to get themselves ready.

“Usually, they ask for a 10-ish minute warning, so they get a timer set for 10 minutes before we need to leave and another timer set for when we ‘need’ to leave,” she said. Then she heads into her home office to do some emails, so they understand that it’s really their responsibility to listen to the timer. And they usually spring into action. (She also uses a points system for rewards her kids can “cash in” for weekend movie nights or junk food.)

Play music

Many parents pointed out that for kids who just aren’t morning people, a well-curated, upbeat morning playlist is your friend.

Syma uses fun, motivational songs to get her kids up and moving in the morning — like “Jump Around” or “Gangam Style” (“painful for me, but the kids love it,” she said). “My husband has to leave the kitchen for some of them,” she joked, “but the kids do get out of bed!”

Or maybe go the calming route. “I am a single, divorced mom with two little girls, age 3 and 8. I put on two alarms in the morning, a clock alarm and an Alexa music alarm with an inspirational message,” said Alex. “Lately, I switched the music from pop to gospel to try to give them a sense of peace in the morning. Some days it works, other days we argue about brushing teeth and putting on socks.”

Many parents swear by the power of a good morning playlist.
FG Trade via Getty Images
Many parents swear by the power of a good morning playlist.

Don’t be afraid to use rewards

Sometimes parents fret about using rewards to motivate kids, but it was definitely among the most popular morning tips that parents submitted. Beth, a mother of two teenagers and a tween, said that when her kids were younger, she liked to give them something special to look forward to in the car ride to school. “A favorite book, fruit snacks, juice box — whatever,” she said. She wouldn’t give those small treats every day, but often enough that it kept her kiddos feeling motivated.

Likewise, Elizabeth lets her 4-year-old use the iPad on the way to school if he brushes his teeth or gets dressed with minimal supervision.

“He has to at least attempt a task (e.g. putting on socks) before he can ask for help. We use a timer, so if it’s 15 minutes before time to go and he hasn’t yet started getting dressed, I give a warning and state the consequence (no iPad),” she said. “If he’s being cranky and doesn’t want to get dressed, fine, I’ll grab him and dress him, but his ride to school is entertainment-free. The car is pretty much the only time he gets the iPad, so he is very motivated by this.”

Other parents said they use point systems or charts their kids can cash in for treats, like a movie night or a small toy they’ve been eyeing.

Consider whether they can actually do what you’re asking

While it’s true that kids sometimes can be a bit lazy or stubborn in the morning, it’s also worth having a gut check about whether you’re asking them to do things they’re not fully capable of developmentally, said Sarah, who has two teenagers and runs an online company that helps busy parents find balance.

“Are you expecting or asking them to do something outside of their developmental capabilities?” she asked. “Kids want to do well if they can.”

Take a moment to breathe and ask yourself whether you’re asking too much of your child’s skills or emotional capabilities. It can make all the difference, Sarah said.

Be honest about the fact that you need help

While things like charts, lists and playlists can help make the mornings easier, sometimes you just need to make it clear to your kiddo that you’re struggling a bit and ask if they can pitch in.

“Here’s a trick my therapist suggested,” said Alisha, a mother of two. “Instead of blaming the kids for being rotten, ask for their help. I told them: ‘I get so overwhelmed in the mornings, and 8 to 8:15 a.m. is the hardest time for me. So at that time, I’m really going to need your help so we can have a good morning and get to school on time.’ This worked like a charm!”