Getting small children to do anything in a timely manner is, as they say, like herding cats. Like many parents, with the school year quickly approaching, my husband and I are trying to put our heads together to come up with a routine that can make busy mornings with our 3-year-old as efficient and undramatic as possible. So what does the best morning routine for preschoolers look like?
In an interview with Romper, preschool educator and bilingual preschool book author Diana Lee Santamaria says that at home, just like in the classroom, "routines help children feel safe and secure with their caregivers. This emotional stability builds trust and should help ensure a smoother morning flow for parents and children." Santamaria also points out that your child's preschool teacher will thank you for establishing home routines, since "this learned behavior at home will also lead to a smoother transition from home life to school life."
Santamaria suggests the following for a daily routine: A quiet and soothing wake-up, teeth and hair brushing, dressing, eating breakfast, putting on shoes, grabbing a prepped lunch box, and heading out the door. The list is mundane and unremarkable, but the key is in its predictability. Don't make a preschooler's morning more complicated than it needs to be.
Santamaria's most valuable piece of advice? Creating a picture chart showing each task in chronological order. Since most preschoolers cannot read, seeing a visual representation of what is coming next can help them understand the routine without consulting you every step of the way. (Although you obviously have to introduce it and review it for awhile before they can truly handle it solo.)
Licensed clinical social worker Kelsey Torgerson of Compassionate Counseling Saint Louis says that in her experience, the best way to prepare preschoolers for a big change is to give them lots of time to process by starting routines several weeks before school begins. Talking with Romper, Torgerson explains, "If you have a 4-year-old who usually gets up at 8:00 but will have to rise earlier during the school year, start waking them up at 7:00 every day and explaining why."
And remember, Torgerson advises, the morning routine actually begins the night before. "Sleep is so crucial for helping management of emotions, so parents also need to ensure their kids are going to bed at a regular hour every evening."
Whatever slight variances your unique family's routine takes, experts agree that the key is consistency. The sooner your preschooler knows what to expect, the sooner you'll see the stress-induced morning meltdowns start to taper off. Now if you could only get your meltdowns to do the same.