Managing morning mania: 3 tips for smoothing school mornings

Amy McCready / Today

From Positive Parenting Solutions founder and TODAYMoms contributor, Amy McCready

With the school year now in full swing, parents everywhere look forward to seeing the yellow bus rounding the corner every morning.

But one thing we don’t enjoy is the endless nagging, pleading, negotiating and yelling that goes along with getting the kids onto that bus on time, and with everything they need for the day.

Take heart: there’s no need to face this struggle every morning—and if your kids are old enough to ride the school bus, they’re fully capable of getting themselves ready for school, without you reminding them every step of the way. The following three tips will help get your family out the door every morning, with no yelling required.

1. Tame the morning nag-fest by implementing "when-then" routines

A when-then routine is a tool to help your kids stay motivated to get everything done in the morning—even the “yucky” stuff like brushing teeth and getting dressed. Essentially, it structures your morning so that all the not-fun tasks are completed before the most desirable part of the morning, like breakfast (or morning playtime, TV time, etc.).

Your family’s when-then routine, which you create in advance, might sound like, “When you’re dressed, your hair is combed, the bed is made, and your backpack and lunch box are by the door, then breakfast will be served.” If your kids show up to the table in pajamas with their hair a mess, you can smile and calmly say, “When everything in your morning routine is finished, then we’ll have breakfast.” Then simply walk away so you’re not available for whining or negotiating.

When-then routines are also perfect to avoid after-school homework hassles: “When your homework is finished and your backpack is ready for the next day, then you are welcome to go outside, watch TV or use your computer.”

This strategy works like a dream to avoid power struggles because the routine becomes the boss--Mom and Dad no longer need to nag or remind kids every single morning.

2. Implement a no-rescue policy

If you consistently remind kids to remember the lunch box, PE clothes, homework, and permission slip, it’s time to implement a no-rescue policy.

In parenting education circles, we remind parents, “A child who always forgets has a parent who always remembers.”

If we always remember things for our kids or bail them out by driving the lunch box to school, there’s no reason for them to ever take responsibility and remember for themselves. By refusing to rescue our kids, we’ll train them for better behavior in the future.

But we can’t just spring the no-rescue policy on children without warning—let them know in advance that part of growing up is taking responsibility for themselves, and that you won’t be driving forgotten items to school. If they forget their homework or lunch, they’ll need to face the consequences – they won’t starve, but I promise they’ll remember the lunch box the next day!

There’s no doubt that this takes courage on your part, but remember you’re training your kids for the long term. Believe it or not, your kids’ teachers will thank you. In fact, a principle in Kansas implemented a no-rescue policy when she noticed the front desk covered each day with forgotten lunch boxes and notebooks – all brought in by parents.

Help set your kids up for success by saying, “Since I won’t be reminding you about what you need to take to school, what ideas do you have to help you remember?” A morning checklist that they see on the way out the door can be a great visual reminder.

Removing yourself from the equation will help your kids be more independent, and ensure your morning doesn’t turn into a nag-fest.

3. Happy mornings start with you.

The first step in your family’s morning routine is to get yourself ready to go. Make sure you are up, dressed and caffeinated before your kids put their feet on the floor. While it’s tempting to sleep until the last possible minute, remember the mirror effect: your children will take their cues from you. If you are relaxed and prepared, they will be too. Anxious and rushed is no way to start the school day for you or your kids.

These tools will work wonders to remove you—and any nagging, yelling and reminding you’re prone to do—from the situation each morning at your house, and train your children to be more independent and responsible at the same time.

Now, you can really look forward to seeing that school bus every morning!

Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and mom to two boys, ages 12 and 14. Positive Parenting Solutions teaches parents of toddlers to teens how to correct misbehaviors permanently without nagging, reminding or yelling. For free discipline training resources, visit:


Parents, do you have trouble getting your kids out the door in the morning? What methods have worked for you? Watch the video and share your thoughts in the comment section.