We’ve all been there. Sometimes, it’s just not easy to get up and get going in the morning. For young children who are still developing the ability to cope with new situations, preparing to have a successful day at school can feel overwhelming. Yet, there are tactics parents can use to help their kids leave the house feeling healthy, confident, and energized.

You can reduce your child’s anxiety and help them feel empowered for success by establishing a predictable routine. Following a schedule each day makes children feel safer and happier, which often leads to better behavior and cooperation. When they know what to expect, and what’s expected of them, kids feel more comfortable and confident about what lies ahead.

Establish a routine.
When my son started preschool, I figured I would wake him up earlier than usual and hope for the best. Even though we had talked at length over the summer about how “real school” was starting soon because he was a “big boy” now, it almost seemed like the news was sprung on him during those first early mornings. He was cranky, wouldn’t get himself dressed or eat a healthy breakfast, resisted leaving the house, and had separation anxiety at drop-off. When he was a mess, I was an even bigger mess! I grew frustrated, forgetful, and I worried about him the rest of the day.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that we needed to make a change. My first step was to get organized and figure out what needed to get done each morning. I laid out my top priorities: getting my son properly fed and properly clothed. Then I turned my ideas into action:

  • I woke my son up at the same time each day and gave him breakfast first. I didn’t tell him, but in my mind, there was an allotted amount of time for eating. I kept my eye on the clock, and encouraged him to keep eating at regular intervals. Without realizing it, this turned into a pattern for him: he simply got used to eating his breakfast within a reasonable timeframe.
  • The night before school, we set out school clothes and his backpack. This helped to avoid arguments and saved time in the morning.
  • After breakfast and getting dressed, I’d direct my son into the bathroom for teeth brushing and face washing. Then we prepared to make our exit.

With a little time and practice, this new routine became our family’s new normal and helped things run more smoothly each morning.

Consider new strategies.
I tried a couple ideas that could potentially work for our family:

  • Setting up a timer for each part of the morning routine can be fun and helpful: your child might enjoy hearing a different, fun ring for each alarm.
  • Previously I limited screen time in the mornings, but I found that watching an educational program eased my son into wakefulness. For my son, watching the Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood episodes “Good Morning, Daniel” and “Good Night, Daniel” were helpful in showing him that everyone takes similar steps to prepare for the day.

Even if your child resists a regular schedule at first, you may find that after a while, they appreciate the predictability of the morning routine.

Embracing school day schedules.
Your child will soon learn that following a schedule isn’t only helpful at home. It’s something they’ll do throughout the school day, too.

  • Educational environments typically follow a daily schedule, providing structure and comfort to young children. When my son started Kindergarten, his teacher gave the parents a daily and weekly schedule. I hung the schedule up on my son’s wall at home and pretty soon he began running his finger down the list and reviewing all that he accomplishes in a school day. He felt proud to show me all of his school activities.
  • Remember that you can be proactive in helping the school day go smoothly. For example, if your child seems to be struggling with math at school but breezes through the homework, it may be taught during a time of the school day that’s difficult for her. Perhaps she’s hungry for lunch or tired from recess. Packing a heartier morning snack or reminding her to take it easy on the playground could be simple solutions. Talk with your child’s teacher to gain better insight and discuss helpful solutions.

At the end of a full day, kids are often ready for free time and relaxation. Allow time for resting and recharging while maintaining the evening schedule for homework, dinner, and the bedtime routine. This way, you are setting your child up for another great day!