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Dealing with Morning Madness


By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

Does the thought of getting out of bed and trying to get your child ready to leave the house make you want to crawl deeper under the covers each morning? Children need lots of time and a routine to follow each morning, or chaos can accompany the Cornflakes, and bad tempers can set the tone for the rest of the day. Young children, especially, have little concept of time, are easily distracted, and require lots of leadership from a well-rested parent to get it all together in the morning. Planning ahead takes some work, but really is worth the effort.

Keep a family calendar

Knowing what each day holds is the key to being organized and efficient with your limited time. Invest in and use a family calendar that has spaces for each member of the family. Mark each person’s plans in different color ink. Routinely check the calendar each evening to prepare for the next day, such as who needs carpooling, or what slips of paper have to get back to school, etc. Discuss what the children need to do on their own to be ready. For instance, have your child place that box of elbow macaroni for the art project in the backpack now so it does not get forgotten in the morning.

Use evening hours wisely

Try to prepare as much as possible the night before by packing lunches, readying backpacks, choosing outfits and placing shoes nearby. Encourage as many family members as possible to bathe in the evening in order to avoid morning bathroom traffic jams. Plan breakfast the night before by putting cereal boxes out on the table and checking that the milk and juice in the refrigerator are in containers that children can reach and pour. Keep fresh fruit in a bowl on the table. By age four, most children can help themselves to a simple uncooked breakfast (if healthy foods are safely within reach) and follow up by bringing dirty dishes to the sink.

Do your best to make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep

Most young children need at least 10-12 hours of sleep. If they sleep enough, and if their parents get their own 8 hours of sleep, mornings go more smoothly because everyone is alert enough to cooperate. Sleepy family members are sluggish and their behavior is the number one cause of morning stress. Commit to bedtime routines and tweak them until they work, for everyone’s sake. Decide that family members who have difficulty getting up in the morning need alarm clocks (placed across the room) so that no other family member is faced with the time consuming and aggravating role of getting them out of bed.

Post the morning routine on the refrigerator door

With many tasks done the night before, the list only needs to include the basics: Wake up time, breakfast, wash, brush teeth, dress, gather belongings and GO. Remind dawdlers to “check the list” so that you do not have to yell reminders. Picture cues placed next to each item helps non-readers to stay on track.

Eliminate unnecessary distractions

TV is designed to distract and it DOES. Other distracters include all types of social media devices. It is hard to pay attention to the pace of getting ready when you’re distracted with a smart phone, or plugged into an i-pod. If 10 minutes of a children’s TV show buys you an uninterrupted shower, try to arrange the TV viewing to be the LAST thing in your child’s morning routine. This way, when you are ready to go out the door, they are too!

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at


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