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Up and at 'Em! 8 Tips for a Stress-Free Morning Routine


A sufficient amount of sleep and a steady morning routine sets the stage for the entire day—especially for kids, who are prone to mood swings and a lack of focus as it is. But do you know how much sleep your child needs? And do you know how to establish a healthy morning routine? The facts on sleep and the ways to wipe out the morning drama might surprise you. Read through this slideshow on your way to a stress-free morning routine for you and your kid.

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By Meg Butler

How many times have you yelled, “Get out of bed!” during a morning meltdown or hour-long standoff? A steady routine is the solution, and it’s a key to achievement in the classroom. “Children generally thrive more when their world is more predictable—routines are one part of that experience,” says Amanda Sacker, Ph.D., a health and life-course researcher. Learn to get your kid from "rise and shine" to "school on time" without too much morning drama.

Make it His Responsibility

If you pop into your child’s room every five minutes before pulling him out of bed, he’ll never get up on his own. By age 5 or 6, your little dreamer is old enough to get himself out of bed, says Seattle-area social worker and educator Sarina Natkin. Tell him he’s old enough for “big boy” mornings—once you wake him up, it’s his job to get ready for the day—and he’ll stop using you as the snooze button.

Start Early, Start Small

Start to lay down your family’s morning groundwork when your child is 2 or 3, Natkin recommends. “When we start young,” she says, “we can build these skills one at a time and help them feel confident in their ability to do their part.” Start small, and add more tasks to the morning routine slowly. Asking for too much too soon can overwhelm him.

Set a Bedtime Ritual

Good mornings start the night before. Create concrete steps—brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a story, etc. Walk him through the steps, take a picture of him doing each one, and stick the photos on his bedroom wall. If he gets off track, point to the photos and ask, “What’s next?” He’ll be proud to show you he knows the drill.

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Tucker Him Out

It’s a time-tested parenting trick: When your little one’s physically tired, he’ll be more likely to drift off to sleep. Shoot hoops, have a wild dance party or play hide and seek until he’s pooped. Whatever you do, do it together. Natkin says that quality time before bed is a great cure for bedtime grumpies, which are often just a request for one-on-one time with Mom or Dad.

Get Him to Sleep

If you’ve been lax on bedtime, it’s time to become a sleep stickler. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 1- to 3-year-olds need 12 to 14 hours of sleep, kids age 3 to 5 need 11 to 13 hours of sleep, and children ages 5 through 10 need 10 to 11 hours. The only way to virtually guarantee your kid gets up in the morning is to ensure he gets his zzz’s at night.

Practice the Morning Routine

Take photos of your kid’s morning routine, and hang them near the nighttime routine pics. Since he’ll be groggier and more pressed for time in the a.m. hours, consider doing a dry run and running through the morning routine during calmer afternoon hours to help him nail it down without the pressure of a ticking clock.

Give a Buffer

A “buffer” of 15 to 30 minutes will help everyone get out the door on time in spite of any hiccups that may occur. During your morning dry run, keep track of the time, and tack on the additional minutes to give yourself time to sign permission slips, locate lost socks and tackle anything else that may pop up.

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Be Patient

Punishment isn’t an effective motivator—so skip the threats, Natkin suggests. “By bribing and threatening, we actually decrease the likelihood they will replicate the behaviors we value again on their own,” she says. During off hours, give him time to repeatedly practice what’s expected of him. He’ll get with the program eventually.

Sticking to a routine may be tricky at first, but it’s the most effective way to bring some sanity to your mornings. Establishing one now will mean smooth sailing for years.

Are you adding a healthy breakfast to your kid's morning routine? Read our article on healthy alternatives to deceptively marketed morning meals.