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Mornings in my house usually go pretty smoothly. My husband gets up insanely early and is often gone before anybody else is up. My son (a high school freshman) has been getting up on his own for four years, and you could set your watch by him. He comes downstairs at the exact same time every morning, knows where his stuff is, has the same routine, and gets out of the door on time every single day without a whiff of fuss or drama.
But in between those two, my daughter (sixth grade) drives me crazy. Since she hadn’t taken the initiative on her own to get up to an alarm clock, we told her four or five weeks ago that we weren’t going to wake her up anymore and she had to do it on her own. That part has actually been going OK. Every once in a while she forgets to set it before she goes to bed, but for the most part, getting up isn’t the problem.
What is the problem is that I have no clue what she does with her time in the morning. Her phone charges downstairs, so I know that’s not the problem. There are no TVs or computers on her floor, so that’s not it either. She gets up an hour before she has to leave, and she showers at night, so there’s only so much she has to do. Sometimes she comes downstairs with plenty of time to spare, sometimes she runs down just a few minutes before she has to leave, not able to find the essentials, with me yelling the whole time that she needs to move faster. That is our routine. As long as she got out of the door on time I didn’t care too much.
But for some reason, things got worse last week. She missed the bus a couple of times. She had to run at top speed a couple other times to get the bus. One morning I just unloaded on her that the small amount of time she was downstairs each morning was the most stressful part of my day by far, and it had to stop.
She takes public transportation to school, so her being late really was only inconveniencing her. She would just take the next bus, twenty minutes later, and be a little late for school. She didn’t seem to care, and I couldn’t make her care no matter what I said, so I had to put some rules in place to get things back on track.
She now has to pack her school bag completely the night before (including her MetroCard, the most-looked-for item in the morning) and leave it by the door. She’d gotten into the habit of leaving everything out after finishing her homework the night before, and there was always something she couldn’t find. So now that’s not an issue.
She also has to pick out her clothes before going to bed. I haven’t made her do this in years and years, but one of the things she claimed was slowing her down was not being able to find clothes, so she brought this on herself.
She’s not happy about the new rules and says so every evening, but those two small changes have gotten our mornings back on track!
I asked some friends for their advice on how they get their kids out the door smoothly, and they came back with some really great stuff. With all of this great advice, hopefully you’ll find something that will work for your family!
How to get your kids out of the door on time
Timers for everything
Alexandra (Good Day, Regular People) says that timers rule her morning. “With a 7th grader and a high schooler, we use a timer all morning long. 10 minutes to get dressed. 5 minutes to eat. 5 minutes to pack lunch. 10 minutes to floss, brush, wash up. Final timer to leave. It’s the only way we don’t fall behind. A timer for everything and NO SCREENS ever in the morning.”
Colleen (A Madison Mom) also uses timers to get her kids moving. “We use a kitchen timer with a 10 minute and 5 minute warning beep. One upstairs and one downstairs. Now we’re quick in the morning because we want the mostest sleep possible. So I get them up and set it for 15 minutes upstairs. (dress, hair, teeth) then 15 minutes downstairs (pack snack, eat breakfast). No yelling in our mornings (unless you count me saying “5 minutes” and “let’s go”). And we’ve only missed the bus one time…and that was an electrical outage that killed my alarm. If they’re REALLY quick they even play on the iPad or watch TV. I don’t care as long as it beeps and they move.”
Sarina suggests this cool timer. “Check out this ‘Doin’ Time’ clock – helps kids learn time management with movable metallic tabs. Blame it on the clock! Best part is it lessens a parents’ frustration!”
Organize, then sleep in
Kathy leaves no time for messing around. “When I’m successful I have insisted that bags are packed the night before. Lunches are made and in the refrigerator. Ideally clothes are picked out too. Then, ironically, I let them sleep until the last minute. That doesn’t mean there is no yelling or, on a very good day, gentle reminding, but it keeps everything in automatic mode without any extra seconds for starting to read a book or putter about.”
Make them pay
Kim (The Maker Mom) charges her kids for rides to school if they miss the bus. “In high school if they miss the bus and need a ride (and there are no extenuating circumstances) they pay $5 for a ride or call Uber, which costs just a bit more.”
A carrot and a stick
Kelby (Type A Parent) gives her daughter a reward if she’s on time, a punishment if she isn’t. “There is an egg timer in my oldest’s room. If she gets ready on time all week, she gets Starbucks on way to school Friday. If she is NOT on time, she loses her phone that day.”
Lists, lists, lists!
Michelle (Honest and Truly) uses laminated lists. “I have daily laminated to do lists for my kids that are specific to each day (e.g., Saturday doesn’t include the getting ready for school tasks, Tuesday includes putting lacrosse equipment by the door) that has spaces for me to write in items in dry erase that are special one offs. When they were younger and just starting this, I included times by which each task should be done to ensure they were on time. This took me out of it and made it a ‘check the list’ or ‘how’s the list’ rather than a battle with me. Now that they’re tweens, I have them work on developing the list with me so they have ownership of it, too. There’s a complementary after school list, too. Both help a ton.”
Melissa (jonahbonah) doesn’t mess around. “I have a 14 year old son, he is the WORST to wake up in the morning! We give him a couple of opportunities to get out of bed. If he doesn’t get out of bed, we, no joke, get a glass of ice water and slowly pour it on his head. Then he’s out of bed!”
Robin (Honey Badger Mom) uses the threat of cold water in a different way. “The things that made a difference for me were 1) turning on the shower before I go wake her up, so she knows she HAS to get up or she’ll run out of hot water, plus she’s entering a nice warm bathroom. 2) She HAS to pick out clothes the night before. And 3) no shoelaces. Velcro Pumas or these things.
Christina (Modern Homeschool Family) learned early to get ready on time. “I was a big time dawdler as child. The doctor told my mom to make me leave at the time I was supposed to, no matter what. It only took once instance of me going to school with no make up. I was out the door and prepared every day after that.”
Devra (Parentopia) had a similar tactic used on her. “My mom took me to school in my PJ’s with a bag of clothes. She did it in first grade. She called the school in advance and told them she was going to do it and the school was cooperative. My mom also had warned me she would have no choice if I dawdled. She followed through and I never dawdled again.”
Enlist the siblings
Julie (Julieverse) gets everything organized, but her sons came up with an extra incentive. “No screens whatsoever. Lunches are made and bags are packed the night before. If my 6-year-old misses the bus and I have to drive her, she pays in Shopkins (which she can earn back later). When she doesn’t make the bus, the school director talks to her about it, reminding her it’s her responsibility to make the bus. But our biggest influence, of late, was when her brothers got involved. They go on different buses than she does and have heard about our morning frustrations at dinner. A week ago, the 12-year-old offered her a sleepover in his room if she makes the bus every day this week. We wrote up an agreement, the kids all signed their name. She has made the bus every day this week, while her 10-year-old brother has even threatened to sabotage. I think it’s a competitive streak coming out. Or goal setting gone right. Or peer pressure.”
Have a routine
Brandy (Happily Blended) tries to keep the morning routine the same. “For all three of my kids (boys ages 7 and 9, girl age 13) it’s all about having them get their stuff out the night before. Also having their own alarm clock to know what time it is when they are upstairs vs. downstairs. Having a specific morning routine – same expectations and rhythm of how things go each morning. Get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, watch cartoons after if time, then leave same time.”
Ilina (Dirt & Noise) makes sure lunches don’t wait until the morning. “My biggest tip is to pack lunch the night before. My 12-year-old son does it when he’s done cleaning up after dinner.”
Plan for the week
Desiree (Stress Free Baby) gets as much as possible done on Sunday. “My rule is to set your clothes out for the entire week on Sunday night. That includes whatever you might need for after school stuff, like cheer practice. What you can pack in advance for lunches, you pack Sunday night, too (ie, bags of chips, grapes, etc.), so that the morning of is just about putting those bags into the one lunch pouch with an ice pack. Homework is done as soon as you get home from school and that’s when all forms are signed, fees are paid, etc. The morning is literally ‘put on your clothes, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth and hair, grab your backpack and go.’ I’m the one putting the lunch in the backpack. This starts in elementary school and the only thing that adjusts through high school is when they shower/bathe…little ones are the night before. The big ones do it in the morning–if they get up on time. If not, they go to school dirty. Because I’m that kind of mom. If there’s arguing over outfits, that typically happens Sunday night when we aren’t all stressed.”
Devra (Parentopia) sets out the rules clearly, never reminds or nags, and follows through. “I do not yell nor remind. If I am his ride, I let him know the night before that I will wait in the car and the time he needs to be in the car. I also let him know that for every minute he goes past the agreed time, I will take that time from the next activity HE needs to be driven to by me. I make no reminders. I do not nag nor repeat warnings of impending consequences. I then follow through with the consequence of taking his time off of his next chosen activity. NO EXCEPTIONS. If he is late to a game or practice, he must explain to the coach how it occurred and his responsibility. If he tries to blame me, he has already been told that will not fly and if I get wind of it, he AND I will talk to the coach.
“He asked for a better alarm clock, so he and I shopped for the one he wanted and he made the selection. Also, I have instituted a Once A Quarter Mental Health Day. This means if his grades are all C or above he can take a personal day, no questions asked, once a quarter. This has eliminated the “I don’t feel well, can I stay home?” morning arguments that sometimes would cause him to be late. Yes, all of this takes time and consistency, but I have done it this way with both if my kids and each are now punctual and know that I follow through with the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Destiny (Suburban Wife, City Life) has a plan would work on me, too. “I pull the good old bribery technique. If you get up and dressed I’ll give you a donut. It seems to work great for both the kids and myself! (Ages 4, 6 & 36.)”
Allison (Allison Zapata) puts it more succinctly. “I’m basically a mob boss. Bribes and threats.”
Beth (Beth Estella Photography) bribes as well. “Bribe with Starbucks.”
Sondra (Happy Healthy Hip Parenting) has a routine that wouldn’t work for everybody, but is kind-of amazing. “Honestly, our 12-year-old finally came to US and mentioned that he has a hard time ‘getting started’ because he needs physical activity. We now wake up (and I have never been a morning person myself) at 5:30 and go for a quick 1 mile run around the neighborhood. After he showers, he eats breakfast (without complaining) and even has plenty of time to get dressed and out the door on time. Probably not helpful but it is the only thing now that works for us.”
Or just leave
Janine (Neen TV) leaves it to the kids. “We don’t turn the TV on or let them have phones until they are ready. I try to get them to pick out an outfit the night before. The days I’m not home and they have to rely on themselves they are usually ready early so lately I’ve been leaving just a few minutes before to walk the dog and so they know it’s all on them.”
Blame the phone
Karen (Beyond Words Life) uses the alarms on her daughter’s phone for a customized morning routine. “I set up a series of alarms on my daughter’s phone through her iPhone’s clock app. Each one had a listing of what she was supposed to do next. So, ‘get up’ ‘eat breakfast’ etc. We did the same for night time. It took the onus off of me. We also bought her an analog wrist watch, too – we got a tip about that. With an analog watch, you see what time it IS, what time it WAS, and what time it WILL BE. Bigger picture.”
Note time’s passing
Rebecca (my cohost on Parenting Bytes) uses alarms in a different way. “Multiple alarm clocks. Not for waking up, but for going off at 15 minute intervals so she knows that time is passing.”
Get up earlier than the rest
Kim (Mom in the City) has some sanity-savers that she says help keep the peace. “To-do lists at night and in the morning. (Initially, their ‘free-spirit’ might resist the structure so letting THEM create it is usually best.) Having him get up 15 minutes (or however many minutes that he is usually late) earlier. He aims to be ready at 7:30 (which is the rest of our 7:45). Losing what he loves for a set period of time (15 minutes or so) for each minute that he’s late. If he is going to inconvenience everyone else, he needs to share in that feeling with something that he cares about (usually his tablet or a favorite show).”
Or go to bed earlier
Nicole (SAHM Reviews) adjusts bedtimes until mornings are no longer a problem. “If they are too tired or moving too slow then they must not have gotten enough sleep the night before. So we make them go to bed a half hour earlier every night until they can wake up and get ready on time. It only take a few nights of that before they are ship shape and back on schedule.”
Carrie Ann had to ban the screens. “Electronics were a big time drain & kept us from accomplishing what needed to get done in a timely manner to get out the door. My son is only allowed his phone when he’s accomplished his morning routine. It’s a real incentive to get ‘er done. It’s working out fantastic for our soon to be 14 year old.”
Let Them Fail
Mel (Raising Playful Tots) says that they have to figure it out through messing up. “Teach them what to do. Step back and let them experience. It’s a messy time – sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t, but eventually they learn.” She also recommends The Gift of Failure (affiliate link) by Jessica Lahey.
Britt (In Pursuit of Happyiness) did something similar. “I’m a big fan of the whole ‘natural consequences’ thing. One year that meant a kid having to walk to school after missing the bus, showing up late, and having to get a tardy pass. She was horrified.”
Use Presidential Inspiration
Janessa took her cue from the First Family. “I’m just so glad that when BHO was first elected, I learned that Sasha & Malia both had alarm clocks, and were expected to get themselves up each morning. ‘Well,’ I told the girls, ‘if the first daughters can do it, so can you!’ and they’ve done so, pretty much consistently, since ’08. I even got tired of the who-wants-what for breakfast dance, so they feed themselves, too. if that means Q eats leftover sweet potatoes three days in a row, and then leftover dumplings the next? Meh. Better than pop tarts, right?”
Last but not least…
My favorite piece of advice came from my friend Dan, who it should be noted does not have children. “This seems like it could do the trick.” Heh.