Morning Routine Tips

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain's Parenting Blog

Dr. Samantha Levy, PhD
February 5, 2024 / 7 mins read

All parents are familiar with the trials and tribulations of waking up their kids and getting them off to school in the morning. There are many moving parts: getting dressed, shoes on, backpack ready, breakfast eaten, and transitioning out the door. And if parents also have to get ready for work, that adds even more stress to the situation.

Parents of youth with pain disorders have an even more difficult time because these kids tend not to sleep well and are, therefore, tired in the mornings. In addition, pain and other ailments tend to be worse in the morning, and the anxiety of leaving the house and going to school can create obstacles.

Make a Plan
One helpful tool is to have a checklist for the morning for your child to follow. The plan should be written out and placed somewhere accessible, like on the bathroom mirror. The child can consult the checklist and will eventually memorize it – it can keep your child on track without you having to “nag” about it throughout the morning.

For young people transitioning slowly back to school, make sure that each evening, you and your child go over the plan for school attendance for the next day. That way, expectations will be clear, and there will be less anxiety about time spent at school. This plan may include when they should be in class, when they can go to the nurse, and how often they can text or call you. Ideally, this plan should be devised with a therapist or behaviorist.

If your child says that she is in too much pain to go to school, remind her of the plan and tell her that even a short time at school is better than nothing. Also, help your child make and maintain contact with friends as much as possible – she will be more motivated to get to school to see friends.

Jenny was a 13-year-old with chronic abdominal pain. She always went to school late and missed many days of school. She had difficulty making and maintaining friendships because she missed so much school.

Towards the end of middle school, we started having planned weekly get-togethers with a couple of friends. Once Jenny entered high school, we had her join a few clubs, where she made friends with common interests. As a result, she had friends to sit with at lunch and in some of her classes. Suddenly, Jenny started getting to school on time because she felt less alone in classes and was motivated to see her friends.

Start the Morning Routine the Night Before
I think the key is to have as much done the evening before as possible. Once homework is complete, have your child pack up their backpack and have it ready in the morning. Look at the weather report together and have your child pick out clothing for the next day and lay it out. Make sure both shoes are found and ready, too. (I can’t tell you how many mornings my daughter and I spent time looking for one missing shoe!) Have your child shower/bathe in the afternoon/evening. I always made my children’s lunches at night for the next day so that in the morning, I could focus on making breakfast and monitoring progress towards getting out the door.

Doing more at night can make the morning feel less rushed and stressful, too. Many kids with pain disorders have the type of neurobiology that aligns with moving a little slower in the morning (and during most transitions) and do not do well with rushing. One of the most common complaints I hear from my clients is that they are frazzled by their parents rushing them in the morning, which causes them anxiety – and then backfires.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It is absolutely vital to enforce a reasonably early bedtime (one that allows 8-9 hours of sleep) in order to help as much as possible with fatigue in the morning. I feel that it is more important for your child to get a good night’s sleep than to stay up late finishing homework. If your child cannot complete homework without staying up too late, this issue should be discussed with their teacher, school counselor, or administrator. Some teachers don’t realize how much time students are spending on homework and will adjust expectations once they are made aware of this issue.

If your child is spending more time on homework than his peers, it is important to look at why – it could be due to perfectionism, OCD, anxiety, procrastination, a learning disability, ADHD, and so on. (It may look like I have strayed from the topic of the morning routine, but the ability to get homework done and get to sleep greatly impacts the ability to wake up in the morning!)

For children in middle school or high school, I typically request that the school waive first period to give the child more time to get to school. This can mean first period is an elective, PE, resource, study hall, or something like that. This way, your child can sleep later and/or get ready more slowly in the morning.

Getting Them Up in the Morning
Some kids do well with music to get them moving in the morning or opening their blinds to let the sunlight in. Talk to your child about ideas or experiment to see what helps. If your child is in high school, and you or the alarms do not wake him up easily, try an alarm that moves around the room and has to be caught to stop making noise. You could also try charging the cell phone out of reach, so she has to get up to turn it off. One of my college-level clients even has an alarm that gives her a mild shock (the user sets strength) to wake her up.

Ask Others to Help Get Your Child Off to School
If you can have someone other than a parent (or have the parent who is usually not home in the mornings) get your child ready in the morning, that can be a game-changer. Jordan was an 8th grader who came to school late every day. Once he was running behind, his mom often had him stay home instead of bringing him to school late.

First, we made a rule that no matter how late he was, he was still going to school. Second, I asked if there was anyone else who could bring him to school. His mom said he liked his uncle, who was available in the mornings. So, every morning, we had his uncle come over and wake up Jordan and take him to school. He did not want to complain and seem difficult in front of his uncle, so Jordan’s attendance shot way up.

Sarah was a 5th grader with pain and poor school attendance. I suggested hiring a college student to come in the mornings to walk her to school. Sarah thought that the college student was really cool and wanted to impress her. She didn’t want to seem “like a baby.” Voila! Sarah’s attendance improved significantly.

These kids had not been faking their pain. They just didn’t pay as much attention or give in to it as much when a parent was not in charge of getting them out the door. This change increased attendance, which helped them socialize better and feel less overwhelmed about being behind in school, which then led to a decrease in pain.

Hopefully, these tools will help start your days off better so your kids can access school more frequently and the whole household can feel less stressed.