Morning Routines – Getting to School on Time without Nagging, Yelling, Fighting…

With 3 primary age boys and a 12 month old baby, mornings were not necessarily the most serene time of the day. Despite telling myself that I was not going to yell, nag and spend all morning chasing children around the house with a hairbrush…I would wake up early with the best of intentions, only to find myself yet again, running around the house chasing children with hairbrush and toothbrush, whilst trying to find matching socks that were the right colour, style and ankle length in order to succumb to the particular fashion whim of each child. I would drop the children off at school, sweating now from the last minute dash around the house to find 3 gold coins for free dress day, a favourite toy for show and tell, last nights spelling words, the tennis racquet for the lunchtime lesson and the footy boots for the after school footy training. I would kiss them goodbye, be left with the relative peace of a 1 year old, and find myself wondering yet again what all the fuss was about and why I had yet again found myself saying the same things over and over again in a voice that sounded more like a fishmongers wife than the loving devoted mother of four. I decided that there must be a better way. After all, not everyone looked like they had spent the whole morning nagging the same requests with droning repetition…or did they? (we as mothers are pretty good at covering up as my friends would often comment on how calm I always appeared!) I set about coming up with a plan that I devised in conjunction with my children…and…although not always perfect, my mornings are now pretty close to stress free, even allowing me time for a few extra cuddles and chats about the day ahead and sometimes even a quick before school visit to check up on the artwork adorning the walls of my youngest sons classroom. (I did say sometimes!)

Like all successful plans, my morning routine relies on some pretty tried and true principles – planning, patience and practise.

It requires a simple routine for each child, which when completed, can be rewarded. Together with your child, write a list of everything they need to do before they walk out the door each morning. For smaller children you may want to draw simple pictures that they can also understand. The list should be placed somewhere where it can easily be followed and may even have space to tick off each task as it is completed. Discuss with your child how the routines are going to work so that everyone is clear with what is expected.

Tasks on your list should include such things as

  • Have breakfast -I prefer this to be done first to avoid Weetbix being caked onto clean school shirts
  • Brush teeth -again I prefer this done early to avoid toothpaste down the front of aforementioned clean shirts
  • Brush Hair
  • Get dressed – this includes socks and shoes!!!
  • Pack Bag -includes lunch and drink bottle (with water in it!), notices and excursion forms that were signed and sealed in an envelope with correct money the night before, homework and hat.
  • Pack any extras – this requires an extra timetable for each child to look to the corresponding day to see if they need library books, tennis racquet for lunchtime lesson, after school sporting gear, art smocks, show and tell etc


And that’s it! Once everything on that list is completed and the child is literally ready to walk out the door, then they can be rewarded by participating in any agreed upon activity for however long they have left, before the agreed upon time to walk out the door. The activity may be watching TV, playing computer games, playing with the dog, playing outside, reading a book or listening to music. The more efficient the child is at getting the tasks done, the more time they will have for an enjoyable activity of their choice. In households with more than one child it may be a good idea to prohibit the television as a reward as this is often a distraction for those lagging behind still fumbling their way through breakfast.

For this to work however, there are a few things that must be adhered to. Firstly make sure everyone is actually awake and out of bed with plenty of time to complete all the tasks. If this is a struggle you may need to look at changing the time your children go to bed at night.

Make sure you walk out the door on time. Some may say that you should let your child go to school with hair not brushed, no shoes, no lunch etc and that they will soon learn…however I myself find this more embarrassing for me as a mother. My boys are yet to care too much about a bit of bed hair sticking out all over the place, and I would still find it difficult tucking into my soup and crusty bread roll at lunchtime whilst staring at my sons lunchbox that has been left on the bench in order to teach him a lesson. If they are still slow at undertaking a task, gentle reminders of the task list will help get them on track. If there is no television on and no computer games allowed, they will be far more inclined to work through their list in order to get to do something more fun (this includes wrestling with siblings which is also not allowed until all the tasks are done). And remember to praise them when certain tasks are completed efficiently. Simple words of encouragement carry far more weight than the drone of a nagging voice.

Patience and planning are the key. Change takes time so don’t expect overnight success and be prepared for sick children, morning meetings and early band practises to throw things out a little…but do be confident in knowing that for the most part – you can have a happy and nag free morning routine, a leisurely walk or drive to school and a positive and happy start to everyone’s day.

So –

  • Agree on a time to walk out the door
  • Write a list of tasks to be completed
  • Reward the completed list with free time
  • Walk out the door with minimal stress and no nagging!

Best of luck and let me know how you go with your morning routines.

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Ciara

    This article could be worth its weight in gold … or at least rescue remedy !!!!

    Our mornings before school starts are not renounced for tranquillity …. Somehow when my son is not there….
    My son stayed at his dads last night… he came home after school to collect all the things he would need for his sleepover at dads… he was reminded of all the things he needed to do and then …. asked 17 times if he had everything he needed…… Yes Yes … mum … don’t fuss…. And off he went…… ready for a smooth and calm morning the following day…
    7 am … the phone rings… he has forgotten his camp form… forgot to give his dad the immunisations form … both due today ….. and forgot his SCHOOL PANTS…… (Im also willing to bet he has not had his diary or homework signed) .. Both he and his dad turned up on my doorstep very stressed out this morning… with grumpy faces ..
    Up until this point…. it was my first stress free morning since school started.. hehe

    SO We will be creating our list this weekend …. here’s hoping for our new stress free morning ….. Thanks Martine… Ill let you know how I go !!

    1. Martine

      Good luck I’m sure you will see some improvements. I also find it more helpful now to get the kids to empty their bags the night before so that i can sign and straight away return any permision slips etc. (That’s when I dont have to wait until I have the right amount of change to put in 3 separate envelopes). Oh and be sure that he has a similiar routine when he is staying with his dad!

  2. Prue

    This is great advice. We used this method last year and had great success, until woe of woes, the novelty wore off! Has this ever happened to anyone else before? Things are going along fine, then all of a sudden the children regain their control and you’re back in chaos. In order to maintain my sanity, and I’m not a morning person, I’ve taken advice from a friend who starts making the lunch for the next day, with help from the kids, as soon as you walk in the door from school. I also get them to lay out the uniform for the next day too. There is only about a 10 minute window of opportunity for these things, however, before they become afternoon munchies and TV zombies. Then after dinner, I set up breakfast to within an inch of it’s life – weetbix in the bowl, milk in a small jug in the fridge, you name it. If only I could feed them breakfast and dress them for school the night before I’d be all set!

    1. Martine

      Yes..of course it is easy to return to previous states of chaos..however it does require persistance until hopefully it becomes more like second nature and something that is automatic. There are certainly times when it has worked better than others (particularly nearer the end of term when everyone is a bit tired and slow) but it usually does require an extra bit of prompting to keep it on track. And in terms of what you can get done the night before then that is great too. Parenting is about whatever works for you. I must admit I am more of a morning person so it works better for me to do lunches in the morning. Thanks for your comments, and if it worked well before it can certainly work well again!

  3. clare goodchild

    Great advice, I will be writing lists with my 2 girls this weekend. I’m excited to see how this will work!!

    1. Martine

      That’s great Clare, best of luck!

  4. Ana

    howdy, superb blog, and an amazing understand! just one for my favorites.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Ana

  5. Ruth Stephens

    This works really well. I did this with our three girls last year when I went back to work and needed them to be more independent. When the printer died and we got out of the habit. Our printer works again now and we will definitely begin this again on Monday. Thanks for the reminder Martine.
    By the way, you say reward them with free time. What are your thoughts on pocket money?

    1. Martine

      Glad it has worked in the past which also means it can easily work well again. As far as pocket money goes this is really personal choice but I think that whilst you may withhold pocket money if certain tasks are not done I think that it should not be a reward for completing chores that are part of the requirement for living in a happily functioning household. If they want to do extra tasks that are over and above what they would usually be expected to do in order to earn some more money then I think that is fine.

  6. shaybc


    i have developed an app for the iphone/ipod/ipad called “Wakey-Wakey” which helps kids with their morning routine, and helps them gain time management skills, i have tried it with my own kids and found they try harder (and succeed) to get to the door on time, after they accomplish their morning chores with less stress, and it makes it a more joyful experience for them,

    app store link:
    web site link:


  7. kirri

    Great advice Martine and so happy to know I am not the only one running around with a hairbrush in the mornings!

    1. Dave

      Every morning our 4 YO is waiting by the door, having had at least a two course breakfast with his bag packed, teeth brushed, dressed and with shoes on yelling “come ON we will be late “.

      We supply the breakfast, and he does everything else. I would like to claim that it is a carefully designed system we taught him or even observation of our machine like AM efficiency, cos it sure as hell is not genetic. The point of this is that kids are quite capable of self organization so if they try that dazed and doe eyed look on you, don’t buy it.

  8. mumspk

    This is a fabulous blog, one I wish I’d written given my business! I’m pretty passionate about kids taking ownership of their own time but I agree its very hard to let go sometimes, especially when our own dignity is on the line as well. In our home, we have successfully done the same thing but so far the reward has come at the end of the week or weekend. I really love the immediacy of your version though. I think I might just have to give this a go with our kids.

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