getting kids out the door in the morning without ripping out your hair


Liz Jenkins


I was out at PF Chang’s for dinner the other night with friends, and of course we started talking about the kids, family life, etc. The topic of the mornings came up and I mentioned how much I enjoyed sitting and reading the paper with my cup of coffee. One of my friends looked at me and exclaimed, “you read the PAPER in the morning??” She’s pretty frazzled, I take it, as many parents are on school days. So this post is about how to get your kids out the door on time in the morning. I can basically summarize the majority in one sentence: Do it the night before.

I always talk about planning your day the night before, loading things up in the car that need to go places the next day, etc. Well, the same thing applies to kids.

1. Get as much done the night before that you can. This includes:

  • signing home folders
  • filling backpacks with whatever needs to go in them (library books, homework, sweater, etc.)
  • picking out the clothes and laying them out – or using one of those 5 day cubbie systems that hang in the closet (I find these work best for young children and boys)
  • making the lunch and stashing it in the fridge (or as much of it as possible)
  • baths or showers
  • placing items in the car that need to be transported the next day such as sports equipment or library books (I don’t recommend this for musical instruments or live animals)

and anything else that could conceivably be done before bedtime.

2. Set up stations or zones in your home. These include:

  • a lunch station – have all lunch materials in one place or near each other. In our house we have the bottom pull out shelf in the pantry, and the lower left section of the fridge. This is where the peanut butter, jelly, bread, applesauce, carrots, etc. all go. The lunchbox is also on that bottom shelf in the pantry, and all of the storage containers and bags are in a drawer right under the counter where I make her lunch. Takes me less than 5 minutes to put it all together and put it in the backpack.
  • an “out the door” station where the coat and shoes of the day are placed, the backpack is hung, sports equipment or musical instruments sit – the night before. This should ideally be at or near the door from which you exit. 2nd option would be the kitchen as this is where most families gather, third would be at the door to the child’s room.
  • a homework zone where there is a place to spread out and do homework, and has paper, pencils, calculator, etc. all in one place. These can be placed in a bin for easy access or transport.

3. Set routines for what needs to be done in the morning, after school and before bed. Our after school routine is that as soon as our daughter walks in the house from the bus, before snack or play or anything, she hangs up her coat, puts her shoes in her shoe bin, puts her lunchbox in the kitchen (after emptying it), gives me her home folder, and hangs up her backpack on her hook in the closet. No exceptions except for a bathroom emergency. Morning routines include her list of things that are her responsibility: eat breakfast, get dressed, brush hair & teeth, feed fish, make bed. Every morning, no exceptions. We are lucky in that she loves the bus so it is an incentive for her but if this is not the case, this is where taking away privileges can come in handy. For some kids a check list is great so they can get a good visual of what needs to be done. I personally do not advocate rewards for basic things that need to be done – we are all part of the same family and these things are expectations for being part of our family.

4. Be firm about your routines. If you are firm and consistent, kids will figure out that it is much less time and trouble to do these things promptly than to argue and whine about it. It may take a while, but they will get it. If you are not consistent, they will then learn that they do not need to listen to you and that if they ignore you, you will do it for them. This is not a good precedent to set. A note: this part is the hardest, by far, of any of my suggestions.

Now I know that I’m lucky because my husband buys into the plans, and makes the lunches half the time (plus he’s Mr. Early Morning guy so he gets up when she does which is the crack of dawn) but the planning the night before and the zones for doing things is critical to anyone trying to get their kids out the door on time. Now we do have our bad mornings, and I am definitely not Super Mom, but these suggestions have worked for me and a lot of my clients, and hopefully will help you as well.