Simple Hacks to Help Morning Dawdlers

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We’ve reached the point in the school year, where it’s harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. It’s dark and chilly outside. It’s warm and cozy in bed. Everyone wants to sleep in just 10 more minutes. Including me. And of course, that “just 10 more minutes” somehow turns into 30 more often than it should.

On that topic, I thought I’d share simple tricks and tips that help things run a little smoother at the start of the day. At our house, when it’s one of those days where the kids are dragging their feet, I have a few tricks that help them stay on track and get us all out the door a little faster.

The first idea is something you can customize for your own family. At our house, we have a simple question/chant/verbal checklist that each of the younger kids gets asked a couple of times during morning prep. Sometimes it’s Hands-Teeth-Hair? Other times it’s Hands-Teeth-Hair!! As in wash your hands, brush your teeth, and do your hair.

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What we’ve found is that making the morning routine feel simple (even if it’s not) is key. There are a lot of things your kids might be asked to do in the morning. Get dressed, do their hair, eat breakfast, make their bed, make their lunch, pack their backpack, brush their teeth, maybe they have a household chore like emptying the dishwasher, or maybe they have to fit in music practice. The list can get overwhelming! Especially for young kids. And it can end up feeling like the mornings are just this everlasting session of nagging. Which nobody wants.

Our kids happen to be quick to do some things — like getting dressed and making their lunches. But other things, like washing their hands, brushing their teeth and doing their hair, can get pushed to the last possible minute. So we made a little chant, or verbal checklist, focused only on those 3 things.

At your house, depending on your kids habits, you might say, “bed, breakfast, lunch” — as in make your bed, eat your breakfast, pack your lunch. Or you might say, “sneakers, trash, backpack” — as in put on your sneakers, take out the trash, and find your backpack. Of course, the kids will still need to brush their teeth or eat their breakfast, even if it’s not part of the verbal checklist — the checklist just helps them complete the tasks that might not get done otherwise.

We’ve found that keeping it simple in the morning so that the list of tasks doesn’t seem too long has been really helpful. The kids know the “hands-teeth-hair” question/reminder is coming, and they do their best to get all 3 finished right away so that they can answer, “Done!” when we ask.

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We’ve also come up with some simple hacks to make each of those three tasks — hands, teeth, hair — go a bit faster for our kids. For hands, what works best at our house is to move the soap to the front edge of the counter and set the hand towel right next to it. Why does this matter? Because soap typically lives at the back of the sink, next to the faucet handles. And that’s a perfectly good place for it to live, until you’re dealing with a toddler or preschooler. They often can’t reach the soap. Even when they’re standing on a stool. And if the hand towel is hanging on the wall next to the sink, they probably can’t reach it either.

So as you walk by the bathroom, bring the soap forward, and set the towel down next to it. Make it easy. Those movements will take you seconds, but they take a young child much longer — even minutes. It’s a little thing, but it speeds up the overall morning routine.

For teeth, try this: while kids are eating breakfast or getting dressed, set out their toothbrushes and add the toothpaste to the brushes yourself, so that by the time they arrive at the bathroom, their toothbrush is ready and waiting for them. No toothpaste tube to squeeze, no caps to fiddle with.

Putting on toothpaste can be a tricky thing for little ones, so having it ready for them can make the whole process go considerably faster. The bonus part of this tip, is that it’s also easy to see at a glance if one of your kids hasn’t brushed their teeth yet, because the toothpaste will still be on their brush. : )

For hair, we’ve found the key is having lots of brushes. We used to have what I thought was a pretty normal amount of hair brushes for the kids: two. But it turn out that only having two brushes ends up causing a lot of drama in the mornings. Because at our house, hair brushes migrate. A hair brush might find itself in the family room, while someone brushes their hair and watches a movie at the same time. Or a hair brush might move to the dress-up bin, if someone needs a princess hairstyle to go with their afternoon costume. Or a hairbrush might end up in a back pack, destined for some unknown purpose at school.

These are all good reasons for brush migration, but the result was that a hurried morning would come, and one of our daughters would reach for a hairbrush, and there would be none in the drawer. This would trigger frustration, a panic-ed brush hunt around the house, some blaming of fellow siblings, and good dose of yelling just because.

So, we upped the amount of inexpensive hairbrushes by a bunch. We now have 6 to 8 at any given moment in the kids’ hairbrush drawer, and the result? We haven’t had a stressful “where in the world is my hairbrush?!!!!” moment in ages. No matter how busy the morning, there is always a hairbrush right at hand.

How about you? What have you tried lately to improve your morning routine? What slows you down the most? Do you have any tricks or tips that have worked for you? 

P.S. — As I write this down, it occurs to me that Oscar and Betty could use an updated little chant, though “hands-teeth-hair’ is still the right focus for our youngest, June!

41 thoughts on “Simple Hacks to Help Morning Dawdlers”

  1. oh man, you guys do a lot of stuff in the mornings!

    We do as many things as possible the night before. That means we have lunches and backpacks packed, clothes are laid out, diaper bag is ready to go.
    I brush my daughters hair before she goes to bed, because it’s quicker and easier to brush in the morning.
    We stay on a pretty strict schedule, especially now that it’s snow pants and boots season and we need extra time to get all that extra stuff on.

  2. Your kids share a hairbrush? Is that normal? To me it seems like if one gets lice, you are screwed. 1 brush per kid. Seems pretty obv, no?

    1. Well I don’t know what’s “normal” for you, but I grew up in a family of 8 kids and we always shared hairbrushes.

      We have so many different kinds of hairbrushes — some are specialized for particular things, like blowouts, or a certain type of hair, but aren’t necessarily used daily. It wouldn’t make sense for us for have one of each type of brush for each kid. But hey, if it works for you, then more power to you!

      We did experience lice once. It was back in New York. But from my experience, the hairbrushes aren’t the carriers. I wrote about our turn with lice here.

      1. I used to have one hairbrush to use on the two older girls. Then one of them got lice and the whole family got them! Even if that wasn’t encouragement enough to give them each their own brush, the older one had a talk at school where they insisted everyone should have his own. Since then, she has refused to use any other brush but her own.

    2. I thought the same thing! The idea of sharing a hairbrush (allz the germs!) with anyone makes me queasy. Loved the post though – great tips!

    1. Yes! We were just introduced to the Wet Brush last Thursday when we hired a hair stylist to help us with our photo shoot. June is 5, but she gave it a big thumbs up. It really seems to not hurt. Which is a miracle! We have other brushes that don’t hurt, but they also only seem to brush the top layer of hair. But the Wet Brush goes all the way through. I think June may find one in her stocking this year.

    2. Instead of a brush, try a wide-toothed comb. It’s better at detangling than traditional brushes, and it’s also easier to clean.

  3. My youngest, Ruby, same age as June, is our slowpoke. Sometimes we have her get dressed the night before! It saves some time in the morning and she gets to snuggle under the covers for a few extra minutes! I’ve put out clothes the night before too, but by morning they change their minds, so dressing at night works better for us!

    1. On school days we almost always dress our youngest the night before too! (Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one! At first I felt like a total weirdo for even having the idea but then I decided that sleeping in her clothes was no big deal when I compared it to the extra sleep, happier mornings, and less stressful mom-interactions she would have each day.) None of her clothes are much less comfortable than a pair of pjs so she doesn’t care one bit! Getting dressed was the longest/worst/most indecisive part of her morning and now it’s easy as pie… on all of us!

  4. In our house it has helped enormously to keep an extra set of toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes and detangling spray in the downstairs powder room, right next to the kitchen. Minimizing or eliminating extra trips upstairs bedrooms and the main bath shaves several minutes off our morning routine!

  5. We say “prayer-room-body” meaning: say a prayer, make your bed/tidy room, get dressed/groomed/eat. It has worked best when I write out with pictures what is expected. We call it our “1st things 1st”. I have found this chant to help get me off to a good start too. Recently I put together a “grooming basket” that I can keep near the kitche/living area. It’s got our spray bottle, wide toothed comb, nail clippers, hair elastics, clips, and chap stick all in one place. Life changing for getting out the door!

      1. We have a basket too! I keep it in the family room and I can take the spray bottle and brush and get all the kids at once while they are putting on shoes or packing lunches! I am going to get a chant going, a good idea!

  6. We keep two hairbrushes in the glove compartment of my car! This helps tremendously. I have also mastered the art of breakfast on the go- our current favorite is the frozen whole grain French toast from Trader Joes. We butter the slices and dust them with a pumpkin pie spice/sugar blend.

  7. This post is really timely as we are realizing that our 4th grader and 2nd grader should probably start learning to pack their own lunches.

    Any suggestions about what tasks are age appropriate? And I figure that we will need to build up to making it entirely independent, so what are good ways to start?

    It feels so overwhelming to manage homework and reading etc. in the mornings and evenings that we get the lunches ready for them.

    After a tough start to the year, we have also made our priority ‘no stress and shouting by parents.’ Continuing to make their lunch has been part of that process, but it seems that in the long run teaching them to make their own lunch is an important step in reducing stress and increasing independence.

    Thanks.

    1. I think you’re right to ease into — and it sounds like you have a good system going at the moment, so no reason to disrupt it if it’s working well. Hah!

      Really for me it depends on how complicated the lunches are. If you’re putting items in their lunch that they would normally get for themselves if they wanted a snack, then there’s no reason they can’t pack their lunch on their own.

      But if you do anything more complicated, plan on assisting until they’ve got the hang of it.

  8. I’m a big fan of prepping the night before, so we pack lunches, backpacks, and lay out clothes. As far as packing lunches, all my kids pack their own–the rule is that they need a protein, grain, a fruit, and a veggie (plus water bottle). Years ago I made a list of five appropriate things in each category and hung it on the fridge, but that list is long gone…now my kids just know what goes in what category and the older ones remind the younger ones (right now I have 5th grade through preschool). And my most genius idea ever was Nutella Sandwich Fridays. :-)

      1. Totally stealing that brilliant idea of Nutella Sandwich Friday! Maybe to use as incentive to eat their sandwich the other days. The only problem is that I might eat the Nutella. I tend to not have a lot of self-control around it.

  9. We also have our 2nd grader get dressed the night before! It has been a game changer for us! She takes a bath at night and we pop her right into her outfit for the next day. It means we can’t do any crisp cotton dresses, or if there is something that wrinkles that she really wants to wear, we do the tights and slip at night and just pull on the dress in the morning. When it’s cold out, it is so nice not to have to take her out of her warm jammies to pull on cold clothes, and it has cut our laundry duties in half almost!

  10. My older boy, 5th grade, starts school 20 minutes before his younger sister, 2nd grade, so I stash a few things in the car. Face lotion with sunscreen for both to put on as we drive. A brush and bottle of detangler spray to use after we drop off the boy. She usually still has last night’s pony tail in so we already have a band for the new hairdo. We have a few minutes of hair brushing and girl chatting in the car without the rush before she goes to play with her friends who also arrived with their older siblings.

  11. I like that subject! I get 4 girls out the door every morning. The biggest time-buster is fights among kids. When they all get along, we’re ready 20 minutes earlier. With the present December Advent calendar there’s a positive effect as they are happy with the surprises, but it backfires if they start playing. Now that I’ve found tooth-paste in multiple flavors shaped like a crayola marker and that let out a tiny amount of tooth paste from a tiny hole, they can all do that independently. They each have a Knot genie brush, it doesn’t pull hair and it’s easy to use. There’s some sharing though so the brushes get washed. Clothes are chosen the night before, the school bags are ready, all the winter accessories are in each coat sleeve, but lunches are done in the morning as they wouldn’t fit in my fridge. If it ever snows, I also have extras of everything (neck warmers, mittens…) as they don’t always dry completely by morning. I usually remind ”hair! teeth!” and the oldest girls help quite a bit. I also get completely ready before they get up as they don’t all leave together for the same school like last year.

    1. Wow! Love it. Sounds like you run a tight ship. I love the tip about putting the winter accessories in each coat sleeve. Very clever! And I know what you mean about need to have extras.

  12. It’s always been amazing to me that mornings can be so difficult! We do as much as we can the night before, and keep morning tasks straightforward and routine. There should be plenty of time to get ready, but not so much as to get into trouble. AND YET! Ugh. So many frustrated, rushing mornings.

    Perhaps some visual task charts paired with moving key parts of the routine (i.e. toothbrushing, outfits) downstairs might help. Definitely some ideas to try, since SOMETHING has gotta change.

    Oh, I will say that one of my favorite hacks has been having my husband throw lunches, backpacks, and anything else that needs to go to school with the kids into my car on his way out. He leaves about 30-45 minutes before we do, and this way I only have to worry about getting the kids out the door (difficult enough on its own!).

    1. I love hearing that your husband stocks the car with the backpacks as he heads out for the day. Isn’t it wonderful that even taking one task off your plate can help so much?!

  13. We have finally managed to start getting to school on time regularly, and I am super proud of that. And I am yelling way less in the morning too. Also proud of that, cause it’s a terrible way to start the day. But we have not managed to get teeth brushed regularly in the morning. The kids are eating breakfast up until we’re walking out the door (and including in the car, the little guy even eats if we bike because he’s in the bike trailer). Since we live in a very small house with the living and dining together, playing with toys is inevitable in the morning. It’s hard to keep them focused on doing what they have to do with their toys and books around. Maybe I’ll try that chocolate flavored toothpaste they have at the dentist – reserved for mornings only!

  14. My sensory kiddo could be easily distracted and overwhelmed by the morning rush when he was younger. His OT suggested we make a playlist of 3 songs during which time he had to finish all his “clean and pack” tasks. He chose 3 songs he liked and we never looked back – it allowed him to finish all his tasks at a comfortable pace and he knew that by the time “Don’t stop believing” came on he had to start finishing up. It also allowed us to back off and not nag him to finish – all in all it was a strategy that worked very well for all of us in our house.

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