4 Easy Tips for a Chaos-Free Morning Routine

Turn unmitigated mayhem into a manageable regimen.
Photo via Flickr user Clotee Pridgen Allochuku.

“We need to be in the car and on our way to school in 10 minutes,” I demand. “So you need to hurry up and finish your breakfast!”

Totally unconcerned with my ultimatum, my son stares back at me, then looks down at his plate to contemplate maybe—just maybe—taking a bite. For a second, it looks like he’s going to pick up his fork to spear a piece of pancake, but then he pauses.

“Can I tell you something, Poppa?” he asks.

“No, you can’t,” I reply loudly.“You need to be eating. Take a bite.”

Hearing my raised voice, my wife pokes her head into the dining room to see what’s going on. She’s about to tell me to calm down, but then sees how much food is left on my son’s plate: basically everything.

“This is not a time to sit around, get a move on!” she tells him.

He reluctantly takes a small nibble, his brown furrowed, before smooshing his lips together into a grumpy frown and crossing his arms across his chest.

There are now eight minutes before we have to leave so he isn’t late for school. In eight minutes, my son needs to clear his plate, brush and floss his teeth, get his shoes and socks on, say goodbye to his mother, grab his backpack and get out the door. Impossible odds, but somehow we beat them: He has yet to be late for school. (Knock on wood – every day.)

This weekday regimen could spike my blood pressure if I wasn’t careful. Though the breakfast-time bedlam can still sometimes annoy me or make me frustrated, I have made peace with the frenetic frenzy. These are the four steps I take, which can help any mom or dad who looking to combat the chaos of the morning routine.

1. Get a head start

I always aim to be up first so I can pack my son’s lunch and prepare his breakfast before any other distractions come along. By getting those tasks out of the way before the mayhem truly begins, I mitigate the madness. Plus, the time alone allows me to pound a couple of espressos, so I’m usually most of the way conscious by the time my son arises.

2. Delegation is key

My wife handles getting my son out of his PJs and into his clothes for the day – the delicate negotiation over which pants go with which shirt – and gets him over to the table to eat breakfast. We trade off watching over his progress while we get ourselves prepped for public consumption, and then we take turns overseeing him as he brushes his teeth. Then I’ll ferry him to school, a routine I’ve come to enjoy immensely.

3. Keep it fun

No matter how sleepy or grumpy I’m feeling, I strive to put on a smile when I’m interacting with my son. I keep our conversations lighthearted and aim to interject a heavy dose of silliness whenever possible. A good mood—or a well-executed fake one—is usually infectious. If I’m happy, he’s happy, which means he’s more likely to pay attention and do as he’s told.

4. Remember: Purpose, focus, energy

Instead of simply telling my son to do everything faster, I am working to instill this new mantra. The idea is that we define the purpose of what we need to get done. We focus our attention on it and don’t let ourselves get distracted. Then, we make it happen swiftly and smartly with an abundance of energy. This method turns a to-do item with a tight timeline into a fun mission that we all participate in pulling off successfully. Suddenly, mornings don’t feel so manic and I can start my day in a positive frame of mind.

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Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of seven books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, the travelogue-memoir Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their four-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.