Mornings with toddlers are anything but relaxing and joyful.
In fact, they can be flat out stressful and frustrating as you chase them around the house trying to get them dressed, teeth brushed, and hair combed so you can be out the door on time. And don’t even get me started on the battle that ensues when you ask them to go potty!
Toddlers just don’t move at the pace we need them to. They don’t understand (or care) that we will be late for work if they keep dragging their feet and playing games.
So mornings become a battle. They become something that parents dread. And unfortunately, those battles can have a negative effect on our kids’ overall attitude and behavior for the rest of the day. Heck, they have a negative effect on OUR mood for the day too!
If we want our kids to behave and perform at their best at home, daycare, school, wherever they spend their time during the day, then we have to put some careful thought into crafting our morning routines.
Here are 9 things that you can do starting tomorrow that will start turning around your mornings into something, dare I say, enjoyable…
1. Make sure he got enough sleep
Okay so this isn’t part of a morning routine, however, it will have the greatest impact on your toddler’s mood throughout the day. Too many children simply do not get enough sleep at night.
Here is a general breakdown:
|Age||Total Daily Sleep||Bedtime|
|10-15 months||12-14 hours||6-8pm|
|15 months-3 years||12-14 hours||6-8pm|
|3-5 years||11-13 hours||7-8:30pm|
Check out this Baby and Toddler Sleep Chart for more details.
2. Allow more time than you think you need
For most of us, this will actually be the most difficult part to change. I know for me personally, I wanted to sleep in as long as I possibly could, so that meant allotting the bare minimum amount of time for each of my morning tasks. And let’s be serious, any task that involves your toddler NEVER goes as smoothly and quickly as you plan it to!
More importantly, you won’t have time to take part in the activities that truly matter and make the biggest difference in whether or not the rest of your day is stressful or happy!
Take away that time pressure and give yourself plenty of time to complete a morning routine that will set your family up for success.
3. Utilize a visual schedule
Whether we want to believe or not, our sweet little babies are growing up! They are starting to crave independence and if that need is not being fulfilled, then they will typically begin acting out in resistance. And the thing is, we may not realize that’s why they’re acting out because they don’t have the means to express that clearly!
By creating a visual schedule (a sequence of pictures that help people understand what will be happening when), we allow our toddlers to prepare for the sequence of steps each morning which helps smooth out transitions, decrease anxiety, and promote independence.
Predictability provides contentment and security.
4. Get him dressed in his room right away
All of the credit goes to my husband on this one. After having some issues with my son running away when it was time to get dressed, he decided to try helping him get dressed before even leaving his bedroom.
That way he doesn’t get wrapped up doing something else like playing with his toys, asking us to turn on the tv, or begging for a granola bar. Plus his brain and body are still groggy so that makes it much easier!
5. Offer choices when possible
Providing our kids with opportunities to develop positive power will greatly decrease the number of power struggles that happen during the day. Everyone, adults included, have a need for power. This isn’t a good or a bad thing, it’s just the way we are wired.
By allowing our toddlers to exercise that need for power in a positive way, we are decreasing the likelihood that they will need to do it in a negative way (i.e. tantrums, throwing, hitting, kicking, biting).
Give them a choice when you don’t care about the outcome. This can be super simple things like choosing the red cup or the blue cup at breakfast, jeans or sweatpants, black or brown shoes, marching or walking backward to the bathroom (gotta have a little fun right?), etc.
It is important to note that you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) give choices for everything. Just a few things each morning will be good. Also, you’ll find it helpful to only give 2-3 options when asking them to make a choice (i.e. red or blue). Otherwise, it just gets out of control and overwhelming!
6. Provide step-by-step instructions for more complicated tasks
Something as simple as putting on shoes or brushing teeth may feel very overwhelming to your toddler. He sees it as one big giant task instead of broken down into small steps like we understand it. Taking them through each small step will help take the overwhelm away and will allow them to feel successful with a previously complicated task.
My toddler was one of those who resisted putting on his shoes by himself. We knew he was more than capable of doing it, but whenever we asked, we got the response “No! You do it!”
The task felt too complicated to him. He didn’t know where to start or what to do next. His wonderful daycare teacher decided to create a poster for him so he could follow along with each small step to achieve his overall goal. It worked like a charm! He actually likes putting on his shoes now! This helps out our mornings tremendously.
7. Engage in some quality bonding time
This one is the game-changer, my friends. It may seem like an impossible task when you know your mornings are chaotic, but you’ve already given yourself more time so let’s make the most of that and fill up your toddler’s attention bucket (so he won’t have to act out to get attention later).
All you need is 5-10 minutes. Set a visual timer for the pre-determined amount of time and let your toddler lead the way. Have them choose the activity before setting the timer so you don’t waste any time!
This step alone can dramatically change your toddler’s behavior and compliance for the day.
8. Repeat positive affirmations
Before working in an elementary school, I would’ve scoffed at the idea of positive affirmations and said something along the lines of “Telling yourself how great you are? Really? This is just ridiculous!”
Buuuuuut I’ve changed my tune after learning more about the actual scientific evidence behind this practice! Who would’ve thought!
They say that you are what you think. Your brain starts to believe all of the things you tell yourself whether that be good things or bad things. It is so important for kids to develop this mindset so they understand that they can grow and improve despite their circumstances. They can change where they’re at if they want to just by taking different actions.
We particularly love this free download from Teachers Pay Teachers.
Start by picking 5 affirmations and sticking with those for a week or so. Choose ones that correlate with areas you feel your child would benefit from the most. Repeat them every single day. The repetition is what makes them stick. Gradually add in more when you’re ready.
9. Have a discussion about expectations
On your drive to daycare/school (or at the breakfast table if you stay home with your kids), discuss the expectations for that particular environment. If your child has been having trouble walking in the hallways, then talk about how he needs to use his walking feet.
Preparing his brain for these rules and expectations each morning will help him follow through and be more successful with them throughout the day.
This is also a good time to talk about any changes in the schedule. So if there’s anything out of the ordinary happening that day, give your child a heads up. Maybe they’ll be having a Halloween party in the afternoon or maybe someone else will be picking them up from school. Let them know of these changes.
There you have it! Nine ways that you can dramatically improve your toddler’s attitude and behavior throughout the day.
Don’t stress yourself out by trying to do everything at once. Pick 1 thing off of the list right now and implement it tomorrow. Try it for a few days, then pick another thing. Keep adding steps in until you feel like your mornings are a bit less stressful and your child is having easier days.