These parent-proven tricks will help get kids out the door faster

Sept. 7, 2018

According to, “children do best when routines are regular, predictable and consistent.” Easier said than done, right? You’d think that getting to school every day would be “predictable and consistent,” but when kids wake up moody, or you’ve run out of breakfast cereal — or, perhaps, your toddler refuses to put on pants — getting out of the house can often seem like an insurmountable task.

Ask any parent about the trenches of hectic school mornings, and they’ll tell you it’s all about preparation. My husband and I tag-team our toddler’s routine from wake-up to preschool drop-off. As my husband gets in a morning workout, I trudge half-asleep down the hall to wake our son up, make him breakfast and get him dressed. By then, my chipper husband arrives all showered and ready to take our son to school — coincidentally just as my French press timer goes off and I settle in for my morning “me time” before heading back to my home office to start the day’s work.

It’s a great plan we have in place, but let’s face it: We’re often thrown a wrench. For those of us who feel like we’re barely treading water at this parenting thing, we’ll take all the tips and tricks we can get, and just hope our kids get to school on time. Here are hacks for getting kids out the door in the morning from some of the most creative parents we could find.

Trick 1: Get everything ready the night before

We have to mention this first tip because it’s so effective. It stands to reason that if you cover all your bases the night before, you’ll have less to worry about when everything is chaotic the next morning. That means, if it’s a school night, everyone in the family — yes, even the parent(s) — should have: bathed or showered, laid out clothes, packed a lunch and packed any work or gym bags and kids’ backpacks — and make sure any homework or projects the kids need are actually inside their backpacks.

“When putting out clothes the night before, make sure to include socks and shoes,” says Salt Lake City, Utah, mom Julie Hirschi. “The worst part of getting out the door: ‘I can’t find my other shoe!’”

Martha Sugalski, a mom of six, including triplets, in Orlando, Florida, is a model example of morning preparedness and organization.

“(I have) my coffee mug and sweetener under the machine ready to go in the morning, my workout clothes picked out night before, so when the alarm goes off I do not have to think,” Sugalski says. “I get dressed, make coffee and everything is all laid out. With multiples, I have to be uber organized.”

Trick 2: Set clocks ahead or alarms for earlier than usual

Always give yourself the most time possible in the morning — even if it means sacrificing those precious 30 minutes of extra sleep. In my house, we typically set our alarms 15 minutes earlier than we know we need to get out of bed. That way, my husband and I have time to check our phones or doze off again before we absolutely need to get our son up and ready.

“We just get up super early so we have oodles of time in the morning,” says mom Emily Popek, of Oneonta, New York. “My daughter gets up around 6/6:30 and we don't leave the house until 8.”

Other families find the logic in just going to bed earlier so they can wake up earlier.

You can also use a timer to keep everyone mindful of the exact time they need to be ready and at the door. Set one on your phone and tell everyone, “Be at the front door when this goes off in five minutes — or else!”

Trick 3: Turn it into a race to the finish

Some kids are motivated by competition. If they think they’ll get to be the winner just for being first — even if it means being first at getting their teeth brushed or their shoes on — they’ll do it, and they’ll do it fast.

“I have to turn things into a race to see who can do things faster,” says Leah Embrey, a mom of two in Huntsville, Alabama. “Calvin hates to go to the bathroom, so sometimes I ‘race’ him to see who can get to the potty first.”

“My daughter thought it was so hilarious that she beat me and got to go potty first — as I’m pretending to do my finest ‘pee pee dance!’” says Mandy Heidrich, a mom of two from Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Of course, this same competitive trick can be used to get kids to come the breakfast table, get their shoes on or buckle their cars eats or seat belts, too.

Trick 4: Come up with creative rewards

Simple, positive reinforcement in the form of extra playtime, stickers or other “rewards” can go a long way for kids.

“They do what they can to be done early so they have time to play before we leave,” says Priscilla Walker, a mom of two in Orlando, Florida. “They get stickers on their calendar at the end of the day for following directions and good behavior, so we never/rarely have issues in the morning since they’re wanting to start on the right foot.”

Mom Amina Sarraf says, with her kids, the first one to get in the car and buckle their seat belts gets to pick the music they listen to.

Mom Eva Miller recently moved breakfast to the last thing her family does before leaving.

“Everything must be done before breakfast, and it's been amazing how much more quickly she moves now,” Miller says. 

Melisa Rohrbach, a mom in Orlando, Florida, says she offers her son a "car snack" for acting fast in the morning. 

“It’s motivation for the whole morning,” she says. “If things go smoothly and Wes goes potty, eats his breakfast and puts on his shoes right, he gets a car snack!”

Trick 5: Make late starts embarrassing

My mom told me story about how she skipped school once, only to have her mom follow her to class the next day and take the seat directly behind her. She stayed there the whole day, too. My mom never skipped class again. I always said that when I had kids, I would use the “embarrassment method” of discipline. That’s why this next trick is one of my favorites.

Risa McDonell, a mom in Maine, found that she really only needed to make one simple threat for her son to get him moving in the morning: “I threaten him that if he misses the bus, I will drive him to school… in my bathrobe… and when we pull up, I will get out and let everyone know that I am (his) mom… by singing it operatically at the top of my lungs, and then giving him a huge, wet, sloppy kiss in front of everyone. And he knows that I would do it!”

Trick 6: Take away the devices

Parents want their kids to be tech-savvy, and, in turn, most kids love every minute of screen time they get on their devices… which also makes them the perfect tool for morning motivation.

“The only thing that works in my house, and not all the time, is taking their phones away and giving them back in the car,” says mom Judith B.

“It’s amazing how distracted my boys can get by the alerts on their phones in the mornings,” says Sheri R., mom of a tween and teen in Sacramento, California. “Things go much smoother on the days we keep phones put away until everything is done."

Trick 7: Tag-team it

When all else fails, pull in some help and use all the teamwork you can muster. It takes a village, right?

“Hubby always heads down with baby first and starts on breakfast and then gets him ready for school,” says mom of two Stephanie Almhem, of Redondo Beach, California. “Meanwhile, I’m preparing lunches and everything for work and school. I put everything together and leave it by the door so no one forgets anything… Tag-teaming is really the only way we can get out the door on time.”

“Work as a team with your spouse,” says Christina McKeeby, a mom of three in Sharpsburg, Georgia. “Each of you has a job dealing with time management: One handles getting up/food. One handles getting out the door. Then, we each have time to walk away and get ourselves ready.”

A supportive spouse is handy, but even an eager grandma, beloved aunt or a paid sitter can step in to share the burden. We all need an extra hand, or 10, sometimes.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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