Happy Mornings Ahead

8 simple strategies to help you get your motley crew out the door on time, every time — and even fed and dressed, too!

A father and daughter having a happy morning, getting ready for school
A father helping his daughter adjust her backpack, teal soccer jersey

We all know how we’d like to begin our days: lounging in a plush bathrobe, a latte in one hand, a good book in the other.

Whether or not someone in your family has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), that’s not likely to happen. Especially on school days, when you have to make sure everyone wakes up, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and gets to school and work on time.

Did he have enough to eat? Did she remember her homework? Did you grab your cell phone?

You won’t be able to avoid busyness at the beginning of your day, but you can start working towards happy mornings by creating an island of calm in your daily routine. Here’s how:

Ask for Help!

Call a family meeting to decide who will be responsible for which tasks each morning. For example, Dad will make sure the kids get dressed and brush their teeth, and Mom will take care of breakfast and the carpool. Don’t forget to assign tasks — like loading the dishwasher — to the children, too.

[Free Download: Sample Schedules for Reliable Routines]

Draw up a schedule, and post it for all to see. If you have young children with ADHD, include photos or illustrations representing the tasks that they need to do, so that they will understand their responsibilities.

Use a timer to move things along, if necessary. One family I worked with tape-recorded their morning schedule, splicing in various songs as accompaniment, and played the tape each morning.

They knew that when they heard “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” everyone should head to the breakfast table.

Shift Tasks to the Night Before

The more you do before you go to bed, the less you’ll need to cram into the following morning. Switching from a morning to an evening shower is a great way to ease the morning crunch. Ditto for running the dishwasher (so you’ll have clean dishes in time for breakfast) and doing the laundry (just be sure not to leave wet clothes in the washer overnight).

What else can you do the night before? Quite a lot, actually…

  • Lay out tomorrow’s clothing, for yourself as well as for your children. Do you often have trouble deciding what to wear? Hang complete outfits together in your closet, or list all the components of outfits you’ve enjoyed wearing in the past on index cards and keep the stack by your closet. Keep your children’s matching shirts and pants in the same drawer or on the same hanger, so they can find them without your assistance.

[Personal Story: “Morning Is My Son’s Nemesis”]

  • Gather everything that you’ll take with you the next day — briefcase, umbrella, dry cleaning, letters to mail, library books to return on your lunch hour, and so on. Assemble them in one place, near the door you exit from in the morning. A box, basket, or shelf designated for this purpose will help everyone stay organized.
  • Make lunches, distribute lunch money, and pack your children’s backpacks. Teach your kids to get everything ready for the next day before they go to bed. This will help you avoid last-minute searches for shoes or homework — and the announcement from a tearful child that “I don’t have any clean clothes.”

Give Your Brain Time to Wake Up

If you take stimulant medication in the morning, keep your pills in a bedside drawer and a glass of water on your nightstand, so you can take one before getting out of bed. Some people take the pill upon waking, then spend another 20 minutes or so in bed. You can set the snooze alarm and doze off again — or simply relax.

Be sure you’re out of bed at least 30 minutes before it’s time to wake the kids. Steal a few moments for yourself. Scan the newspaper. Gaze at the birds in the back yard. Once your children are up, you may be able to enjoy an actual conversation with them, rather than simply yelling, “Hurry up, it’s time to go!”

Grab-and-Go Breakfast

Maintain a ready supply of breakfast foods that you and your kids can eat quickly. No matter how carefully you plan your morning routine, there will be days when you and your children are running behind schedule. When that happens, it helps to be able to go to a single drawer or cabinet in your kitchen to find bread, cereal, syrup, coffee, sugar, tea, mugs, bowls, and so on.

In addition to maintaining a “breakfast drawer,” it’s a good idea to keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with nutritious, easy-to-grab foods. Some favorites include: orange juice, protein bars, low-fat muffins, bananas, hard-boiled eggs, single-serving cartons of yogurt, and individually wrapped sticks of mozzarella.

Aim to Be Ahead of Schedule

Sounds impossible, I know. But think about it: If your child’s school or your employer announced that your day would begin 15 minutes earlier than usual, you’d make the adjustment somehow.

Last-minute departures make your commute not only more stressful but also more dangerous. When you cut things too close, getting stuck behind a bus or missing a green light tempts you to make up for lost time by darting into another lane or speeding through a yellow light.

But if you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, you can go with the flow in the carpool lane and get to work with your peace of mind intact.

[The Secret to No-Nag, Never-Late Mornings]