By Janet Howard, Program Director for Bringing Out the Best in the UNC Greensboro Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships

I don’t know about you, but my mornings could run a little more smoothly as I try to get my two teenagers out the door for school, and get myself off to work … And let’s not forget about the husband who can never find his keys or wallet and the two dogs that need to be attended to!

How about making the year 2020 one where our morning routines run a little smoother?

I get up at 5:15am most days for the sole purpose of getting in my exercise before the craziness starts. This is the only time I have when no one else is asking something of me (except for my pups who just want love and food). You would think that getting up this early would allow plenty of time to get things in order before 7:30am. Some days, things go off without a hitch, but on other days, it’s a struggle to keep my head above water and keep everyone’s tempers from flaring.

Here are some tips for making mornings run more smoothly, based on my own efforts to try to perfect this routine in my family, along with years of experience working with parents who face similar challenges through our Bringing Out the Best program.

You can have different expectations depending on how old your children are, but overall, it’s important to delegate. To get out of the house, everybody can play a part and have a job. Here are some possible jobs for kids of different ages, plus for you as the parent!


Take your shower before your kids get up.

Pack all work and school bags the night before and be sure to put them by the door, along with your shoes and coats, so you won’t forget them!


Find something little for them to do that makes them feel important so they are happy, entertained, and not mischievous. This could include gathering diapers, extra clothes, or a book for the car ride.

Show them a selection of two food choices for breakfast. (Think about your child’s preferences, and if you can offer choices they’ll like the first time, that can prevent a tantrum and extra time re-making breakfast.)


Pick out clothes from two choices, which you’ve laid out the night before.

Have them help you pack their bag the night before, and have your child make sure it is by the door.

Set a timer for 15 minutes of allotted screen time once they are completely ready for school (dressed, teeth brushed, etc…).

Elementary School Kids:

Dress themselves. (Remember to pick your battles. Who really cares if they don’t match or don’t wear socks?)

Involve them in food choices for lunch and let them gather what they can for their lunch box.

Write a list, and have them check off each task (get dressed, eat breakfast, etc…) as it is completed.

Set a timer for 15 minutes of allotted screen time once they are completely ready for school (dressed, teeth brushed, etc…).


Set two alarms, but give them a few minutes after waking before hassling them to get up.

Dress themselves (Again, pick your battles. It doesn’t matter if they want to wear shorts in the dead of winter or wear only a hoodie when it’s ten degrees outside, just as long as they are in dress code).

In my house, if the teenager wants lunch, she needs to fix it.  If I am feeling productive and ahead of schedule, I will pull things out and she is responsible for getting it from the counter into the lunch box.

Backpacks and gear bags for practices should be packed the night before, along with books, folders, change of clothes, permission slips, etc…

Cell phone should charge in the kitchen overnight, so it’s charged, can be found easily, and wasn’t disrupting their sleep over night!

I am sure you can see the recurring theme here…prepare ahead of time! Do as much as you can before the hurried pace arrives and teach your children to prepare ahead of time. You will still be multitasking all over the place and answering rapid-fire questions, but at least you will know where things are and feel confident that you have set the expectations ahead of time for the routine.

Allow your child to face natural consequences if they fail to prepare ahead of time. For example, if your teen daughter runs out of time to pack lunch because she took too much time picking out which over-sized tee shirt and black leggings she will wear that day, then she will most likely plan ahead the next time!

Encourage independence as much as you can, increasing the expectations at each age interval. Last, but not least, remember that yelling and barking orders will not make things go faster, and you’ll end up regretting your negative last words before sending your child off to school. But remember—you’re only human, so forgive yourself on mornings when you feel like you’re losing your mind, and remember you’ll always have tomorrow to try again!

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