How to transform your mornings, stop the tantrums, and connect with your kids — from the moment you wake up
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For the longest time, our morning routine involved:
- My older child thundering into our room at an ungodly hour
- Me stumbling into the living room and turning on the TV
- Me checking email and nursing a baby while the older one zoned out on Peppa Pig
And before I knew it, it would be time to leave for preschool and we’d be late because butt-in-chair inertia is SO hard to overcome, especially in the morning.
There would be tears and fights over the need to wear pants and rushed breakfasts where I urged, “JUST EAT YOUR CHEERIOS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD”.
And let me be clear, if you have a newborn baby, then this routine is A-okay. Don’t change a thing. You’re doing fine.
But once you come out of the newborn haze, there are some simple ways to get your morning off to the right start for a peaceful day of connection with your kids.
Let’s get something straight.
While our mornings are much calmer these days, we still certainly have mornings that also involve me running around screeching “Put your shoes on NOW!!”
There are still dishes to do and bags to pack and little bellies that need to be filled with nourishing food.
This isn’t about perfection.
This is about wanting to change the way you start your day. About wanting to connect more deeply with your children, right from the start, so that no matter what else happens, you know you’ve done at least one great thing that day.
This is about making it easier to get your kids to sit at the breakfast table, to get dressed, and to get out the door. This is about finding ways to tamp down the resentment that can start to creep up after the 97th day in a row that you’ve been jolted out of bed by a preschooler demanding cartoons and juice, STAT.
The morning rush was one of the worst parts of our day for the longest time. And there were a lot of very legit reasons for this — I was working the evening shift in the ER, and I wasn’t getting to bed until 1 am — even though I was also getting up with the toddler at 6:30 am every day. And for a long time, I was also dealing with either morning sickness, recovering from a miscarriage (I’ve had three), or dealing with/recovering from an international move.
But having to deal with a screaming toddler who wouldn’t put her pants on wasn’t helping anyone.
We needed a change.
Step by step, we started making changes for a more peaceful morning routine.
Here’s what worked.
1. Start the night before
It is impossible to enjoy a peaceful morning routine if you’re also frantically trying to pull together everything you need for your day.
Before you settle in for the evening, take care of the essentials:
- Pack the lunches for tomorrow
- Pour the water bottles
- Prep the cups of juice or milk for the kiddos
- Program the coffee maker
- Load the dishwasher and turn it on
- Wipe down any obvious spills or crumbs on the counters
- Move any final loads of laundry to where they need to go
- Pack up the backpacks with the homework folders or soccer cleats or whatever else the kids will need for the day (or put the library books by the door, or the bag of items to return to Target — whatever is on your to-do list)
- Nudge all the toys over to a corner of the living room where they won’t bother you (much)
Set a timer for twenty minutes, and go for it — you will be surprised by how much you can accomplish in twenty minutes, and it’s easier to get started if you know there’s a time limit.
After twenty minutes of tidying and prep work, STOP.
You don’t need to do it all tonight. Tomorrow is another day.
Just do enough so that when you wake up in the morning, you’ve taken care of any essential tasks that might distract you or cause you to feel rushed.
I learned to take this seriously when I was dealing with massive morning sickness and I could barely function in the mornings. I tended to be okay-ish in the evenings, so it paid to have literally everything laid out and ready to go so that I could move on auto-pilot the next day.
2. Wake up before your kids
I know, I know, you’ve heard this before. But if you know that your toddler always wakes you up at 6:30, set your alarm for 6:15. Give yourself fifteen minutes to pee in peace, splash some water on your face, and start the coffee maker before there is a little one tugging on your pantlegs. This alone can change the whole tenor of your day.
You don’t need to wake up at 5 am and workout (unless you want to, and more power to you). I’m just talking about giving yourself 15-30 minutes to get yourself moving before you have to tend to someone else. Fifteen minutes isn’t going to cause you any serious sleep deprivation (again, unless you’re still in the newborn phase, see above). But those fifteen minutes can make such a difference to your outlook, when waking up is YOUR CHOICE and not because a child is demanding your attention.
3. No TV in the mornings
Don’t stop reading — I swear I am not some hippy crunchy mama who pooh-poohs all screen time.
(Okay, I’m a little crunchy. But this isn’t about that.)
I promise that cutting out TV in the morning can be life-changing. And the benefits of a screen-free morning can feel so good that I swear, you won’t even miss it.
I thought I could never survive my mornings without at least forty-five minutes of free babysitting, courtesy of Nick Jr.
But I was getting sick of the battles over turning the TV off when it was time to move on with our day. The tantrums that followed ruined our whole morning, and it was hard to recover from the crankiness that inevitably followed.
Even if we didn’t have a meltdown over turning off the TV, we’d have one a few minutes later because I’d cut the toast into triangles instead of rectangles. 🙄
I slowly noticed that more screen time in the morning = a crankier, more irritable child who was more likely to lose it over something small later on.
I realized that the TV wasn’t actually saving me any headaches — it was actually adding to them.
So one day, I decided — no more morning cartoons. Instead, I went in and I woke my daughters up gently. Then, instead of going downstairs to the TV room, we snuggled up in the rocker, and we read books and sang a few songs. We made eye contact. We giggled.
The girls were so thrilled with this one-on-one time that the requests for TV quickly died down.
All it took was fifteen minutes of connection and cuddles. There were no fights and no tantrums over breakfast, and we had so much more time to linger over the table with my slow eater (and for me to sip my coffee).
And, most encouraging of all, we had fewer fights during the morning in general. Without the stimulation and high-energy cartoons, my spirited older child was calmer, more even-keeled, and more willing to agree that perhaps a swimsuit was not an ideal outfit for Boston in February.
I loved that my day began with a peaceful, connected moment with my kids. No matter what else happened that day, no matter how distracted or frazzled I got, I knew that we had at least those few minutes of connection.
That bedrock of connection has a snowball effect — it grounds the rest of the day, rippling through the difficult moments, making it easier to take the challenges of motherhood in stride.
It’s important that you not only cut out the TV but that you replace it with a few minutes of a rewarding activity instead. This incentivizes it over screentime for your children, and it fills their cup. When they feel like they’ve gotten really good quality “mom” time right away, 9 times out of 10, they will be less demanding over which pair of shoes best complements their batman costume.
For some kids, this might be building LEGO together. Others might just want to snuggle in bed and talk with you. Find what feels good for both of you, and don’t be afraid to tinker until it feels right.
If you need more help cutting out screen time, or if you’re curious about the research behind screen use and behavior, I HIGHLY recommend the book Reset Your Child’s Brain by Dr. Victoria Dunckley.
4. Introduce a breakfast menu rotation
I have a magnetic weekly calendar up on the fridge from momAgenda. It has an overview of my weekly appointments, as well as the dinners and breakfasts marked out. But I don’t have to recreate these from scratch each week.
- Monday is oatmeal day
- Tuesday is eggs and toast
- Wednesday is pancakes from the freezer (made on Sunday)
- Thursday is smoothies and toast
- Friday is yogurt, granola, and fruit
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I know my kids will eat these meals, I know they’re healthy, and I know they’re easy to pull together. I always have fresh fruit on hand to supplement, and I often throw a hardboiled egg or a spoonful of peanut butter on their plates for extra protein, depending on how they’ve been eating that week.
I love having the menu actually posted on the fridge because my husband can get breakfast started while I get the kids up, as long as he doesn’t have to leave for work early. Just having someone throw the toast in the toaster oven while I get everyone organized upstairs makes a huge difference to our morning routine.
5. Bring great books to the breakfast table
I have a highly distractible older child who can’t sit in her seat for more than five seconds…unless I’m reading to her.
For this tip to work, you need to have really bought into the first tip, prepping the night before. Instead of trying to pack lunches or catch up on dishes while your kids eat, you need to sit down at the table with them instead.
I know, this is tough. There is a dishwasher right there that needs to be unloaded, and you could be searching for the lost hair ribbon while they eat.
But the truth is, kids can’t focus as well on the task at hand (eating) when the parent is flitting around the room. It’s distracting, and it’s no surprise that they lose attention on their meal when they’re curious about what mom is up to in the pantry.
This practice is also wonderful because it means that YOU get to eat a real meal as well.
When we’re in a homeschooling season, I put our read-alouds next to the kitchen table the night before, and I flag pages that we’ll be reading the next day. I work our way through these books as we eat, taking as long as we want to enjoy the stories. In the meantime, everyone is contentedly eating, free of distractions and focused instead on the words being shared.
I also love this practice because we’re able to move through some schoolwork with minimal effort, and it makes the practice really enjoyable. And that’s what this all about, right? Making learning and family time something that fills us up and feeds our souls.
6. Find your family’s anthem
If we’re getting off to a cranky start, despite my best efforts, I have two secret weapons — and they are AC/DC and Queen.
Nothing gets my kids back on board more quickly than a good air guitar solo while “Thunderstruck” blares over the Bluetooth.
We also have a couple of Spanish-language nursery rhymes and calendar songs that the kids really enjoy, and after we’ve gotten our rock on, we might listen to a few of these to gear up for our day.
We have perhaps eight or ten beloved family songs, and they all have their place in our daily rhythm. We listen to classical or instrumental music after lunch, to help us chill out and rest. We have some great indie songs for dinner time that are asked for by name. (Okay, also some Taylor Swift. How can you not like Taylor Swift?)
But the bottom line is that music has incredible power to reset and reframe a moment. As songs and artists become familiar, they can provide a settling force in an unstable time.
The bluetooth speaker we use is just $30 bucks on Amazon (depending on the color), and the sound quality is awesome. It’s also waterproof (which I find very helpful, considering how many science experiences go awry at our kitchen table). Once we added this speaker to our kitchen table, meal times got a lot more fun.
7. Design your space for success
I noticed that every time we had to break our morning flow to get the kids dressed or to brush teeth, things started to go downhill. The walk upstairs to the bedrooms was full of so many distractions — toys in the playroom, stuffed animals on the bed, so many clothes to choose from in the closet…it was a huge sticking point.
Yes, this is an argument in favor of minimalism in general, but also for a really well-designed living space.
Our kitchen is adjacent to the garage entry, and I stashed a short bookcase there where I have six cubes. You’ll notice in the picture that they’re all labeled. On Sunday nights, I restock all the cubes for the week:
- Cube 1 has the baby carrier, clean and ready to go as I’m walking out the door. Also, it’s easy to stuff the carrier back in the cube as I come in so it doesn’t become clutter. (Side note: I cannot rave enough about how much I love my Maya ring sling. You guys, it has pockets.)
- Cube 2 is full of sun gear: sunscreen, swim diapers, sun glasses, bathing suits, kid coverups. We live in a climate that is warm year-round, but your house could switch this out for gloves and mittens when needed.
- Cube 3 is where the magic happens. I have a full set of clothes for the entire week stuffed in there. Each kid gets a ziploc bag. There are undies, socks, t-shirts, shorts, pants, and a sweatshirt per kid. I encourage my older daughter to dress independently in the morning, but if she spills yogurt down her shirt, I don’t have to rush upstairs to find a replacement. This also helps if the baby is still in her highchair — no need to deploy everyone upstairs. Instead, just grab the missing socks or a fresh pair of shorts from the stash. I also keep a couple of diapers and a pack of wipes here for emergencies. I also keep school uniforms and extracurricular supplies here, like ballet shoes and leotards, school notebooks, the art folder, etc. I don’t even bother putting her ballet clothes away upstairs after they’re washed — they go straight in the bin.
- Cube 4 has rain gear, including the stroller rain cover.
- Cubes 5-6 have our re-usable shopping bags.
On top of the bookshelf, I have a bowl for keys. The wooden organizer has a pair of scissors, hand sanitizer, a flash drive, spare change, and pen and paper. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been grateful to have these right at hand.
The trash can is also super helpful for dumping receipts and junk mail right as we come in the door — the clutter never makes it to our kitchen table.
In addition to our quick-dressing station by the door, I keep toothbrushes, hair supplies, and all medications and vitamins downstairs in labeled bins. We brush teeth right at the kitchen sink, and I do their hair while they’re eating.
This system makes my life SO much easier, and when I’m not rushing around, it’s a whole lot easier to be present with my kids.
8. Use play therapy to massage sticking points
If there is a moment in your morning routine that is causing a lot of meltdowns, consider exploring these through play therapy. I talk about this in my post about managing tantrums, but it bears repeating.
We were having a lot of problems over putting on shoes and actually leaving the house. It was infuriating for me — even after a nice morning where we all sat down to eat together, we’d end on this sour note where I’d find myself yelling and turning into the Hulk, trying to grab my kid from behind the couch where she was “playing” hide-and-seek.
We FINALLY started making some headway when we introduced this issue into our play.
During bath one night, I held up a couple of toy fishes and said “let’s pretend you’re the mom and I’m the kid, okay?” My daughter was thrilled at the opportunity to play with mom, and quickly agreed.
I then acted out every frustrating moment of the morning routine. I refused to get dressed, I yelled, I ran away — and my daughter thought it was hilarious.
And funnily enough, she handled the bad behavior like a pro — calmly talking to the baby fish, providing helpful instructions, giving hugs.
We practiced this scenario every night for a few weeks, and it definitely made an impact on our mornings. It modeled empathy, provided an opportunity for connected play, and a means for expressing difficult feelings that we both were harboring.
This technique, which I first learned from my friend, Marjie, who is also a social worker, works in so many situations. It can be so eye-opening to discover what’s really on your child’s mind, as expressed through play.
Putting it all together
So what do our mornings look like right now?
6 am: I wake up, drink a cup of coffee, and go through a training or an online class, or I catch up on some work reading. I rarely have time for these trainings, and I really enjoy the quiet time to give them my full attention.
6:30 am: My oldest wakes up. I hand her a sippie cup (made the night before), and we go get her sister out of her crib around 6:45am.
6:45am: We all snuggle in the rocker in the baby’s room, reading a few books or singing a few songs.
7:00 am: We all eat breakfast, per our breakfast menu, while I either go through our read-alouds or while we rock out to one of our family’s anthems. Once the read-alouds are finished, I brush hair and put in pony-tails while the kids finish eating.
7:30 am: I challenge my older daughter to dress herself, and I fill in any gaps in her wardrobe from my stash by the door (I get it, pants are tricky). We brush teeth and I supervise medications (a twice-daily inhaler and an allergy medication). If she finishes quickly enough, she has free play time until we have to leave. I use that time to brush my own teeth and dab on some concealer.
7:45 am: We walk to the neighborhood preschool, where we’re finishing up a year before returning to homeschooling. I love how these walks energize us and provide a clear “start” to our days.
By 8am, our day is fully underway and we’ve already done so much:
- I’ve had quiet time and gotten my work day launched
- We’ve enjoyed quality family time
- We’ve filled our bellies with nourishing food
- We’ve listened to great music or read fabulous books
- We’ve taken care of the morning essentials, like dressing, toileting, and medications
- We’ve gotten sunshine and fresh air
I want to be clear: we still have our bad days. Days when someone is inexplicably grumpy, or when I’ve completely forgotten that today is superhero day at school and please send in a costume 🤦♀️
We aren’t perfect. And if there were hidden cameras in my house, they would definitely reveal the occasional shout or demand.
But things are so much better than they were a year ago.
And trust me, we don’t even miss the morning TV.
Ready to get started making your own morning routine?
Start implementing these tips right away — download the free printable below to make a morning routine that works for your family.
Think of this as a family rhythm, rather than a set schedule. Let it flex with the seasons. Remember — this should serve you and make your life calmer, more peaceful, and more joyful. If it’s not, then ditch it and try something else.
This season of life can be hard, with small children who need so much from you. But you don’t have to just survive their babyhood. Find the systems and rhythms that allow you to enjoy these moments right now.
You deserve this. Your children deserve this.
You’ve got this, mama.