Beat the morning madness

Try these parent-tested tips for sane school mornings.

By Melissa Catalano


Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.

For many of us, the start of a new school year means the return of the morning hustle. At this time of year I usually reflect on how I’d like mornings to go at my house and what I can do to make that happen. The more I talk with other parents about their morning routines, the more ideas I collect for how to stop the morning madness. I hope some of these ideas can help you create harmony at your house. 

  • Play music. Select some upbeat—but not frantic—tunes to set the mood in the morning. Research shows music can improve one’s mood—always a good thing in the morning!
  • Turn back the alarm clock. I know this idea is not popular with sleep deprived parents, but consider how much time you give yourself to get out the door and how much time you really need to do it all without running around. It may be worth 15 minutes less sleep to have a more relaxed morning.
  • Pick out clothes the night before. If your child likes to debate the pros and cons of 12 different shirts before selecting one, you may need to take “choosing clothes” off the list of things to do in the morning.
  • Make lunches at night. I know friends who swear by this tactic but I’ve never been able to do it. I do find that simply laying the lunch boxes and water bottles out on the counter gets the whole process going faster in the morning.
  • Set the timer. Your child may enjoy racing the clock to get a morning task done. If your child likes to dress independently but takes a long time to accomplish the task, consider setting the timer and then telling him that he has 5 minutes to get his clothes and shoes on. Make sure you allow a reasonable amount of time so as not to create frustration. The idea is that your child should be so motivated that he always beats the clock.
  • Limit breakfast choices. Weekends are the time for long, leisurely breakfasts at our house. But on weekdays I like to put a few choices on the table so my sleepy little ones merely need to point. Offer too many choices and you may feel like a short order cook.
  • Use incentives. I’ll admit it…my kids move at least twice as fast in the morning when they know they can have screen time once they are ready to go. And by “ready to go” I mean teeth brushed, sweatshirt and shoes on, backpack and lunch by the door. On these mornings, I enjoy drying my hair without straining to hear if there is a fight I need to break up. These incentives also help children learn to take responsibility for certain things like their backpacks, lunch boxes and sweatshirts—your child’s teacher will appreciate this.
  • Know how your kids wake up. Some kids wake up ready for the day. Others need time to adjust to the world. Know what your kids need in the morning and try to adjust your plan accordingly.

This year I’m re-envisioning my calm and collected mornings. Good luck with yours. And please share more ideas for making mornings harmonious.