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Create a stress-free morning routine for kids with these 7 expert tips

Here's the morning routine checklist for kids that experts say will get the new school year off to the best start.

Create a stress-free morning routine for kids with these 7 expert tips

By the time families have recovered from the end-of-the-school-year hustle and are finally settled into a summer routine, it’s suddenly time to start thinking about back-to-school clothes, supplies and new schedules. It always feels too soon, even when kids are riding their parents’ last nerves. Summertime may be a bit louder and messier than during the school year, but it’s also less rushed and structured. The back-to-school season means a return to routine, and that can be overwhelming for both first-time school goers and seasoned school families. The good news is that routines are ultimately beneficial for everyone. 

“Routines are an amazing tool for both kids and adults,” says Easton Gaines, an adult and adolescent psychologist in New York. “They bring predictability and security into our lives, creating a comforting environment. When we know what to expect and when, it helps us feel in control and reduces anxiety.”

Knowing how to establish a morning routine comes after understanding what one will look like for your family and why it’s important to create one in the first place. It will take some practice, but you and your family can establish expectations and a plan for an effective morning routine that will get you through the year.

What does a morning routine look like for kids?

Morning routines often include essential tasks like brushing teeth, eating breakfast, getting dressed and gathering what kids need for the day. Marissa Moore, a licensed professional counselor and mental health consultant writer at Mentalyc, says these habits contribute to overall health and well-being.

There’s a positive downstream effect, as well, notes Moore: “When families establish morning routines together, it can foster bonding and connection. Engaging in activities like breakfast together can create opportunities for meaningful conversations.” 

At the same time, a consistent morning routine provides comfort and stability that allows kids to thrive, points out Lauren Cook-McKay, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “When children know what to expect each morning, they learn to take ownership of small tasks like getting dressed, brushing teeth, and eating breakfast,” she notes. “Checking off their morning to-do list builds confidence and accountability at an early age.”

Why a morning routine is important for kids

“Morning routines provide a sense of structure and predictability,” says Moore. “Knowing what to expect helps children feel more secure and less anxious as they start their day.” Routines teach children how to adapt to different situations while still maintaining structure, she adds. Flexibility is a valuable skill kids can apply as they face changes and challenges in their day-to-day. 

A morning routine also helps kids understand time management and consequences of their actions. If they don’t brush their teeth they may have bad breath. If they don’t get out of the house on time, they’ll be late for school. And if an agreement has been established between child and parent if certain expectations aren’t fulfilled, then a loss of privileges may occur. 

Cook-McKay says that linking positive reinforcement with routine completion motivates kids to take pride in contributing to the household. And when kids can handle themselves in the morning without much nagging, parents gain time and energy too. 

“Routines provide security while allowing kids to take ownership and gain confidence,” elaborates Cook-McKay. “Starting healthy habits like eating a balanced breakfast and getting ready efficiently equips children for lifetime responsibility.”

Major benefits of a morning routine for kids

A morning routine will make your days easier now, but you are also establishing lifelong benefits and skills for your child. Morning routines create independence, time-management skills, improve their daily focus, and reduce stress. While there are so many benefits, here are a few to motivate you to establish your morning routine.

Teaches kids responsibility 

“By involving kids in morning routines early on, they gradually learn time management, organization, independence, and, most importantly, respond well to structure,” says Cook-McKay. She says these skills “pay dividends in focus, academic success and emotional regulation as kids grow.”

Keep a consistent sleep schedule 

A morning routine needs a healthy sleep schedule. Moore says that getting enough sleep feeds into building good habits that lead to overall health and well-being. Getting up on time also improves a child’s ability to complete the tasks of their morning routine.

Builds healthy habits at an early age

Moore says that building healthy habits from an early age is vital because it lays the foundation for lifelong well-being and instills responsibility and self-discipline. “By guiding children through consistent routines, parents can equip them with the tools they need to thrive in various aspects of their lives,” says Moore.

7 expert tips to create a stress-free morning routine

Here are expert-backed ways on how to establish your morning routine. 

1. Start the night before

“Mornings can be pretty chaotic, so try to do as much as you can the night before,” says Alexandria Lanza, a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor in New Jersey. Before bed each evening, she suggests encouraging kids to tackle tasks like:

  • Packing backpacks.
  • Pre-making lunches and snacks.
  • Laying out clothes for the next day.
  • Checking homework assignments.
  • Getting gym bags and sports equipment ready to go.

“This way, they’ll save time and have less stress in the morning,” Lanza adds. You can also remind kids at bedtime what the next day will look like. That can include how and when your child will be leaving the house and if there are any after-school practices or activities happening. This can help work through any anxiety about the next day.

2. Keep a consistent sleep schedule

Children and teenagers who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk of several health problems, including type 2 diabetes, poor mental health and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends a minimum of nine hours of sleep per night for kids between 6-12 years old, and at least eight hours per night for kids ages 13-18.  

To ensure kids get enough sleep, set a bedtime for your child and, if necessary, take away all electronics and other distractions that are getting in the way of a good night’s sleep. Gaines encourages calming activities before bed, such as:

  • Reading a book. 
  • Taking a bath.
  • Practicing deep breathing exercises.

“These routines help them regulate their emotions and promote healthy sleep patterns,” Gaines says. Bed times may need to be staggered for different aged children, but strive to set sleep and wake-up times and stick to them.

“Spending a little time doing nothing and being quiet before starting the day can help the mind and body adjust effectively.”

– Ben Spielberg, a neuroscientist and the CEO of Bespoke Treatment

3. Wake up a few minutes early

Ben Spielberg, a neuroscientist and the CEO of Bespoke Treatment, says that it’s important to wake your child up a little before they need to be out of bed to allow them to transition into their day. “Spending a little time doing nothing and being quiet before starting the day can help the mind and body adjust effectively,” says Spielberg.

He explains that a slow wake-up also allows time for the body to transition from a state of rest to being awake. This gives the brain time to steadily complete the last stage of sleep, which facilitates memory consolidation, emotional regulation and overall cognitive function. Spielberg adds that extra time also allows parents to snuggle or be present with their child before the start of the day, which can help with morning grumpiness and negative associations with getting ready for school.

4. Create and display a morning checklist

“Use visual cues. Especially with younger children, remembering all the steps to their routines and completing them can be challenging. Their brains aren’t quite developed enough to independently go through it all,” says Elizabeth Mann, a licensed independent clinical social worker. Seeing a list of what needs to be done can also help kids who struggle to function well first thing in the morning.

Depending on your child’s age, Lanza suggests creating a visual task list with simple photos of their tasks or writing out a list of morning to-dos. Place the task list in a place that’s easy to see, like on the refrigerator or near backpack hooks. You can also ask for your child’s input. What do they think needs to happen each morning? What is their role in a smooth start to the day?

When kids take on responsibility and set goals each morning, they are learning accountability and the feeling of achievement – yes, brushing their teeth each morning on their own is a win! Gaines says a routine and the independence it promotes boosts confidence and fosters a sense of accomplishment.

5. Don’t skip breakfast

Experts agree that breakfast is an important start to the day for students. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), students who eat breakfast have better concentration, more energy and overall better metabolic health. The experts recommend building time into your morning routine to allow your child to eat if they are willing to sit and have breakfast. Lanza suggests having easy-to-grab granola bars, yogurts or fruit ready for a bus ride or commute to school. Some schools offer morning snacks and breakfast items, so be sure your child knows how to access them when they get to school.

6. Provide incentives, enforce consequences

Some kids need external motivation to get up on time and go through the necessary steps to get to school each day. According to Gaines, rewards or incentives may be what helps you create and stick to a morning routine. Stickers, points towards a bigger prize or extra screen time might help keep your kid focused and on track. The key, Gaines adds, is to find an incentive that aligns with your child’s interests. 

Consequences are another approach recommended by Gaines. If a morning routine isn’t accomplished by a certain time, then the loss of screen time or other privileges may be the reminder your child needs to stay on task. For older kids, the natural consequence of lower grades when homework isn’t completed or turned in on time or missing out on practice because they didn’t pack their cleats may motivate them to get organized at home. Allowing our kids to fail in small ways teaches them the value of fulfilling responsibilities. “It helps them understand the connection between completing tasks and maintaining privileges,” says Gaines.

7. Don’t forget about the after-school routine

“After a busy school day, it’s important for children to have some relaxation. This downtime allows them to recharge, reduce stress and cultivate their interests, which contributes to their overall well-being and positive mindset,” says Gaines. 

After your child has had some downtime (and a snack), Gaines suggests checking in with them about their school day and making a plan for what will work better if the routine feels off. You can ask questions such as:

  • Did you forget anything at home that you needed today?
  • Do you think anything needs to be added to the morning routine?
  • What do you need to accomplish this evening before bed?

“Always validate your child’s feelings; although you may know that there is nothing to be worried about, each new school year is a completely new experience with uncharted territory.”

– Elizabeth Mann, licensed independent clinical social worker

The bottom line on building a morning routine

Remember: Even with the best made plans, some days will be harder than others. Kids are human and often struggle with the same lack of enthusiasm for leaving the house as we do. 

“Always validate your child’s feelings; although you may know that there is nothing to be worried about, each new school year is a completely new experience with uncharted territory. Encourage your child with lots of reassurance, closeness, and unconditional love,” says Mann.

No plan or person is perfect, but with some patience, grace and a solid routine we’ll all survive and even thrive in a new back to school season.