How to Establish a Healthy Morning Routine This School Year

The lazy days of summer will soon be a distant memory as millions of children head back to school—some for the first time in more than a year. You can avoid morning chaos by getting into a routine early on, which can save you time and stress.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has found that children do best when routines are regular, predictable and consistent.

Here are three tips for creating a morning routine to get your family off to a good start this school year.

1. Prepare the night before.

For a smooth school morning, it helps to plan ahead. Before tucking in your kids, have them help you prepare school lunches and lay out their clothes for the next day.

“Preparing ahead of time means you’re not scrambling in the morning,” says UNC Health family medicine physician Sarah Ruff, MD.

Make sure homework is done and backpacks are packed and by the door. It can be helpful to have a designated area for lunches, backpacks, water bottles and anything else your child takes to school. If there are forms or papers to sign, take care of them before lights out and put them in the backpack. A checklist on the door can be helpful, too.

Finally, store an extra mask or two in each child’s backpack just in case they’re forgotten when heading out the door.

2. Wake up early.

While it can be very tempting to hit the snooze button, try to get in the habit of waking up early enough to do everything you need to do without having to rush. Rushing causes stress and can lead to mistakes, such as forgetting something you need, or even worse, injuries. You want to make sure you have enough time to get out the door safely and drive without urgency.

“Make sure you have time to eat breakfast, make beds, get dressed and brush teeth,” Dr. Ruff says. (Why make beds? It’s not a requirement, but it can provide a mental boost of feeling productive and organized that can carry on through your morning.)

You can even prepare breakfast ahead, over the weekend or the night before.

Consider preparing hard-boiled eggs, cutting up fruit or making a veggie-packed crustless quiche that you can eat over several days (hint: frozen veggies in microwave-steam packages save chopping and cooking time).

If you have an early meeting at school or work and don’t have time to eat before you leave, whole-grain, low-fat breakfast bars, yogurt or low-fat string cheese are nutritious, portable breakfast options.

3. Find time to connect—even just briefly.

The way the morning goes can set the tone for the whole day, so try to find some time to connect as a family before everyone disperses for the day. This time will look different in each family.

“It could be a prayer or a devotion, or if you’re not religious, just talk about the things that are coming up that day,” Dr. Ruff says. “Just have some sort of connection in the morning with the family.”

While connecting with family is important, connecting with electronic devices is not.

“Avoid screen time in the morning because that really sets the day off to a bad start,” Dr. Ruff says, because screens have been linked to both higher stress levels and lost productivity—essentially, they waste time and can make us feel bad.

Of course, not every day will go the way you’d hoped, and improving your morning routine doesn’t need to be complicated or perfect. Start with a few small changes and gradually add new routines and expectations—the whole family might be enjoying mornings a bit more by winter break.

Is your child not feeling well? Talk to your doctor or find one near you.