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Building Morning Routines That Work For Kids

This is going to sound crazy. But building morning routines (or any routines, really) isn't that hard. The problem is that parents often forget a critical step of establishing routines for kids that actually work.

Ask your kids.

Seriously. That's it.

Pre-Determined Solutions Don't Work

Let's face it. You wouldn't be reading this if what you are doing was working well for your family. You're reading a blog post about routines because yours isn't working. And that's probably because you're the one who made the routine.

Ross Greene (author of The Explosive Child) calls this a predetermined solution, or Plan A. It's the way most parents run their households. Parents decide what needs to happen and in what order, and that's what kids do. And sometimes, that works.

But sometimes it doesn't. Because our kids aren't us. They have different preferences and have developed some skills more than others. So what works for us doesn't always work for them. This is why it's critical that we involve them in household planning.

Sure, you can toss this advice in the trash and keep doing what you're doing. But, if it's not working, why are you still doing it?

Seek to Understand

The easiest way to start is simply sitting down with your kids and talking about mornings. But don't do this in the morning. Do it another time, when heads are clear and there's no pressure. Announce that what you've been doing isn't working. And ask them what problems they're running into with getting things done in the morning. Then zip it and listen.

Here's the trick. You have to really listen. Listen for the barriers to success. Take their concerns seriously. And make a list of the places where they feel like they're getting stuck. This is the framework for a new routine.

Ideally, they will have a good idea of what's going wrong. But there's a chance you'll be met with blank stares or the ever-helpful "I don't know." In that case, just ask them to think about it and let you know if they come up with something. If you're not getting feedback within the next few days, check back in. And if they're still not able to identify the problems, try this.

Let them know that you need to know when they're struggling in the morning. Tell them that if they hit a wall or if they feel like you're nagging them to get things done they need to let you know at that moment. Give them a word, like "stuck," to let you know that whatever is happening at that time is a problem. Collect a list of "stuck" moments, and that's your problem list.

Collaboration is Key

Pick one of the problems and ask your kids how to solve it. It might be a place where only one kid is struggling. In that case, that kid gets to propose a solution. If it's everyone, then everyone throws in ideas. But just any old idea won't work.

  • Suggestions need to meet the goal of that part of the routine. So just skipping toothbrushing isn't ideal, for example.

  • The change needs to be realistic, sustainable, and feasible. So getting a dollar for brushing teeth isn't a great idea. And trying to sleep later and doing the whole routine in 5 minutes is unlikely to work.

  • Simply trying harder isn't an option. If that worked, you wouldn't be having a problem with routines.

  • Outside the box ideas absolutely need to be considered. Wearing school clothes to bed is not a bad idea. Brushing hair in the car is workable. You don't need to do things like other families do.

  • Don't change everything at once. That's a recipe for disaster.

This is a Process

Make the change. Make it in good faith. Try it for a week. If everything is better, great. But it probably won't be.

There are a few possible points of failure.

  • The idea wasn't sustainable, feasible, or realistic. Kids have big ideas but often don't recognize their own personal limitations.

  • The idea caused other problems. Second- and third-order effects are often a new concept to kids. So if they brush their teeth before breakfast, they may find they have bad breath that day.

  • The problem you solved wasn't the only issue.

When this happens, find a new solution. But again, you're looking for a child-driven solution. If they own the process, they're less likely to push back against it. And building routines is an important developmental skill. You're teaching life skills as you're solving problems. And whenever we can do 2 things at once, we should take the opportunity.

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