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How to Wake Up Your Kid Early For School

How to Make Your Kid's Early Wake-Up Time Less Painful For Everyone

It's the week after daylight saving time, which means that your child's early wake-up time (that's 6:30 on the dot, or at least not more than 10 minutes later, for my kindergartner to make her 7:27 bus) is now even more brutal — even if you're using our great tips to make it less so.

It truly is one of the great parenting paradoxes: your child will wake up before dawn on the days you have nowhere to be, but on school days, when they need to be dressed, groomed, fed, and packed at an hour you would have called ungodly before kids? Guaranteed you'll have to drag them out of bed.

Our mornings usually look something like this. Around 6:30, I go into my daughter's room, open the curtains, and put her light on at the dimmest setting. I might sing a little wake-up song or remind her of something fun that's happening that day to inspire her to open her eyes and stop moaning as if doing so might kill her. Then, as every minute without movement ticks by, I get a little more firm. After about 10 minutes, I'm literally pulling her out of bed, a process not unlike dragging around a 60-pound rag doll. That's when the beast is unleashed. She might cry, attempt to throw her pajamas in my face, tell me she's too tired to go to school . . . you get the picture. It's a nightmare, but I have found a few ways to make it less of one.

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If you're dealing with a kid who's grumpy, slow moving, and generally making your life miserable all morning, then barely getting to school on time, here are some tips to make your morning run a little smoother.

  1. Don't waver on bedtime, no matter what it takes. My goal is always to have my daughter asleep by 8 p.m., which means she needs to be in the bath by 7:15 so she has plenty of time to stare at herself in the mirror, pretend to put her pajamas on while she's actually just rolling around on the floor in a towel, and spend 10 minutes picking bedtime books. Find your kid's bedtime sweet spot and stick with it.
  2. Think beyond bedtime. As every parent knows, bedtime is actually an hours-long process, so if your kid is exhausted every morning, also think about your whole afternoon/evening routine. Is too much screen time preventing them from transitioning to sleep? Are you feeding them or bathing them too late? Pick your ideal bedtime and work backwards, giving your child ample time for each step (homework, dinner, play time, chill time, bath and other nighttime grooming, and books), and you might find that your bedtime routine needs to start a whole lot earlier than you thought.
  3. Find your morning triggers, and plan for them in advance. Getting dressed is always an issue in our house, but we found a magic outfit planning strategy that made it so much less of one. Maybe your kid always forgets their socks (why not leave a few pairs downstairs by their shoes?), or maybe a forgotten homework assignment seems to always pop up (check that folder right when they get home, Mom!). Regardless of what your major problem area is, find a way to fix it.
  4. Keep wake-up time calm and positive, no matter how late you're running behind. I don't care how late you know you are, if you run into your child's room screaming and freaking out, that's exactly what they're going to do, too. Instead, stay calm and stay close to make sure they keep moving in the right direction.
  5. Consider a morning task chart. Charts are a big motivator for kids to do what they're supposed to. Make one that has every task they need to complete before breakfast (get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair, make bed, use the restroom — why we have to remind them of this is beyond me, but in my experience, it's necessary), and they're more likely to do them. Use pictures if your kid isn't reading yet.
  1. Make a no-morning-screen-time rule. Screens are the enemy of making it to school on time, so jettison them for you and your kids. That email can wait until they're on the bus and their iPad is not a morning necessity.
  2. Watch the clock and give yourself checkpoints. Once you've done your morning routine long enough, you pretty much know that you need to be downstairs at a certain time, putting on shoes and coats five to 10 minutes before you head out the door, etc. If not, pay attention to the clock for the next few days and figure them out. They're a great guide to keep everyone on track.
  3. Create a place where all backpacks, lunch bags, coats, and school shoes live. Nothing's more stressful than a lost shoe, backpack, or coat two minutes before your child absolutely has to leave for school. Designate a spot where everything goes right when they get home from school. Add whatever snacks/notes to teacher/completed homework assignments they need to that spot and it's a lot more likely to be there the next morning when you need it.
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