Aug 29, 2016

For many parents like me, back to school means two things: hectic mornings and stressful afternoons. The first time I had to get two children out the door by 7:30 A.M., I was stressed. Two months into that first school year, my temper started to give and I’d scream, leaving two very confused and upset little girls on my wake.

Clearly, I am not a morning person. And having a scene in the morning prevented us from getting out the door on time. When the kids came home from school, there was even more tension. They wanted to do their thing but I wanted them to pay attention to what they needed to prepare for the next day, such as homework projects or notes from school. Chaos seemed to reign as soon as they ran in the door.

By the end of that same school year, however, I created a plan that made my mornings calm. Then by the next school year, our afternoons became more organized as well. Today, school mornings are my favorite time of day and I love seeing my kids walk through the door. How did I do it?

One of the first things you need to consider when establishing morning or after school routines for your children is to set a goal for those routines. Once you establish that, the next step is to pre-plan the best way to attain it. On that note, you need to consider whatever will get in your way – like my morning temper!


For most us, the morning goal is to leave on time with all the things your child needs for a successful school day. When it’s taking more than an hour to get two children ready, I knew something had to be out of place. This is how we established our morning routine years ago that we still use to this day:

  • Make a plan to diffuse morning stress. Who is the person most likely to be upset in the morning? In my family, that’s me, so I created a plan to calm myself down when I felt my temper rising. It’s starts with taking a step back, breathing deeply, counting to three and saying a little prayer for help. It was so effective that my daughter actually picked up the habit shortly after! What do you do to diffuse stress in those tense morning hours?

  • Make your children responsible for their own tasks. My kids have learning disabilities so in the beginning I had to dress them, which took a long time. I taught them slowly, step by step, how to dress themselves. It only took a few weeks and before I knew it, we had a lot more flex time in the morning.

  • Do things in order. That is, create an order that makes sense for your family. For us that means get out of bed, get dressed immediately, go downstairs, eat breakfast, wash, brush, and then pack your school bag. Depending on your family and routine, about the only thing that might make sense on that list is brushing after eating. Don’t stress the order. Take your child’s cues and work from there. For example, if your child likes to pack her schoolbag first thing, let her.

  • Put things out the night before. This sounds like a no-brainer but I mean everything, including breakfast dishes, utensils, lunch wares, and foods that don’t need to be refrigerated. You have no idea how much time this saves! Put out school bags, lunch boxes, and let your kids set out their own clothes. Finally, figure out what needs to go back in the bag that morning: A doctor’s note? Something teachers should be aware of that day? A signed paper or report card? I leave this stuff in front of my lunch bags.

  • Give yourself a cushion. We all like extra sleep but it’s wise to tack on an extra 5 or 10 minutes to the morning routine in case something goes wrong. This was the single best back to school tip I ever used and now, we often have plenty of time while waiting for the bus. That makes us all calm and relaxed.

Getting in a regular routine with these tips allows flexibility for the future. When I put my children on special diets a few years later, I realized it was easier to cook for them in the morning. With our schedule, it was easy to accommodate that extra time, however, that would not have been possible without our routine in place.


In the afternoon, goals will fluctuate depending on your child and on their school needs. For example, my children have always attended a school that has a “no daily homework” policy but there are projects throughout the year. This year, my older daughter is changing schools and homework is sure to be assigned. How am I going to tackle this new responsibility? By planning ahead with an eye on the goal. Here is how I’ve created successful after school routines for my children:

  • Assess their state of mind when they come home. When my youngest started kindergarten, she was exhausted and stressed out directly after school. She would simply come into her room and crash. I gave her that space for a long time. It worked and by the end of the year, she was used to the long school day and didn’t need to lay down every day. Now she still does this?

  • Feed them first. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t feed my kids immediately after school, they give me a zombie look when I ask them to do anything. More often than not, they come in and head right for the cookie box. I give them two small cookies and after that, it’s all fruits, veggies and healthy snacks until dinner.

  • Make them responsible for their backpacks and gear. My kids need to clear out their lunch bags and give me the day’s report and any other forms. They also need to hang their coats. Make it easy on little ones by putting up hooks that are mounted within reach!

  • Use tools that promote organization. We use wall mounted pocket files to sort what important paperwork belongs to which child. We also use a shoe rack in the coat closet for their shoes, which we prefer they remove when getting home, and special drawers in the kitchen dedicated to school and craft supplies. You can also set up centers for homework dedicated for each child and organize them, as you feel best. Finally, use calendars and apps that help you organize your back to school life as well.

  • “First, Then” tasks. This tool is good for kids with learning disabilities and for younger children. Use a “First, Then” chart to illustrate what they need first before moving on to the next step, which is usually a reward. (Example: First; wash your hands and dry them, Then: get a snack.) You print pictures for children who are too young to read. You can also laminate the page at an office supply store and get Velcro stickies to change up tasks and rewards.

  • Make sleep a priority. Sleep is critical for all family members to effectively function, including parents. Encourage your family to take a tech time out during sleep hours so there is no light or sound distractions from mobile devices. Net Nanny's parental time controls provide online time management for all family members to set specific times of day when you can pause internet access.

Helping your children establish their own routines in the morning and after school is important for the back to school season. You should plan before school start but if you are always running for the school bus or find afternoons stressful, it’s never too late to design a routine that fits your family, creates a calm atmosphere and encourages your child to be responsible!

Gina Badalaty is a lifestyle blogger for moms raising kids with special needs. She is passionate about living a nontoxic life, inclusion for kids with disabilities and technology to help kids thrive.