10 tips for getting out the door on time

When summer unofficially ends — egad! — in just a few weeks, it’ll be time for many Minnesota parents to get into a different kind of groove: Back to school! 

We’ll stock up on supplies and maybe even update our kids’ wardrobes. It’s goodbye flip-flops and hello new gym shoes! And so long Slip ’N Slide and nice to meet you, glue sticks.

But it’s not really the gear that gets us ready for the grind of getting out the door on time every weekday, is it?

Nope. And you don’t want your kid and his brand-new backpack to miss the bus.

Fortunately, these times of transition present us with ideal opportunities to develop more efficient, stress-free morning routines.

Our advice? Reevaluate what worked well last year and add in a few changes to create a morning routine that brings more calm and happy for your kids and less chaos and stress for you. 

Need a boost? Try one — or all — of our top tips for getting out the door on time!

 

Flight attendants always advise airline passengers to secure their own oxygen masks first, and then put them on their children in an emergency. This same survival strategy applies at home. Hard as it might sound, try getting yourself ready before the kids get up.

“If you wake up rushed and not ready, that negative energy that you’re portraying is infectious in your family,” said Twin Cities parent coach Cheryl Eliason. “Moms are so good at multitasking. But don’t do that. Have yourself 100 percent ready before you need to get the kids ready so you’re 100 percent focused on getting the kids out the door.”

Robin Olson of Delano wakes at 5:30 each morning to get herself ready before waking her children, Tate, 7, and Taylor, 5. And she actually finds peace in the process. 

“I could arguably get up at 6 a.m., but it gives me extra time,” Olson said. “That’s my quiet time. I’m not rushing, and no one is up. I can think about what is ahead of me in the office, as well, and then I’m prepared and ready to take on my two-footed monsters.”

If it helps, give yourself an incentive to wake up earlier. On mornings you’re ready to go before the kids are awake, reward yourself by stopping for coffee after you’ve dropped them off
at school. 

 

Parents should be intentional in helping their kids understand expectations within well-defined family routines, Eliason said. Rotate certain morning chores, like setting out the breakfast cereal and bowls, clearing the table and putting the milk away. 

“Teach them how to help out,” Eliason said. “The earlier you start building structure and routine in the life of your family, the more kids feel that this is part of life.” 

 

We know: At the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is start on the next. But the benefits are well worth it. 

Assemble lunches and pack backpacks with necessary supplies and signed parent permission forms to eliminate panic, arguments and other morning angst. 

Help your kids take on the responsibility of making sure everything they need ends up in their backpack. Create a drop zone by the door where everything, including backpacks and shoes, should be staged the night before for easy, grab-and-go access.  

Olson’s kids’ backpacks go in the car the night before — and both she and her children pick out their clothes the night before, too. Even the breakfast menu is worked out the evening before and is ready to go by morning. 

 

It can be easy to push off school assignments and projects until after dinner and other activities, but this can make for later bedtimes and cranky kids in the morning. 

When your children get off the school bus, fix snacks to be eaten at the kitchen table and have the kids complete their homework at the same time.

Jennifer Norquist, a Baxter mom of three teenage boys — Jack and Luke, 15, and Reed, 13 — said her sons sometimes need to be gently nudged back into school mode when they get home from school or afterschool events. 

“If it’s the first time I’ve seen them since school, I always say, ‘I’m glad to see you,’ and have them go through their backpacks and unload everything,” Norquist explained. “You can find out the things they need for the next morning, like, ‘I need a prism-shaped thing for math,’ or ‘It’s my show-and-tell day.’ 

“These are the things that will drive you crazy in the morning, so find out those details in their head that may not be found written down in their backpack.”

 

Are morning distractions a major issue in your house? Buy an inexpensive wind-up kitchen timer to help your kids understand how much time they have for a given task, like eating breakfast or taking a shower. It will help move them along and give younger children a better concept of time management. 

 

If Sunday is laundry day in your home, it can be a perfect time to choose school outfits for every child in the house for the entire week. Many closet-organizing systems on the market can help with this. Simply fill each cubby with school clothes for each day of the week. 

In Olson’s home, everyone picks out his or her clothing the night before, her included. (Changing your mind the next morning is not an option.)

“These are lessons I’ve learned the hard way,” said Olson, who commutes to her job as a paralegal at an intellectual property law firm in downtown Minneapolis. “This is what works for us. I was guilty myself of standing at my closet, figuring out for 20 minutes what to wear.”

 

Toddlers and preschoolers live in the moment and don’t bother worrying about the future. If you’ve ever had to chase your toddler through the house, trying to wrestle her shirt over her head, you understand the frustration (and general lack of motivation). 

To provide a get-out-the-door incentive, create a basket of toys and books with your child and use it only in the car. Store the basket near the door and rotate in new items frequently to keep the basket fun and exciting. Let your child be responsible for carrying his or her basket to the car. 

 

During times you need to focus on a task, assign a task to your chief instigator to keep him or her occupied. Eliason, for example, would ask her second oldest son to play with the baby to buy her some time. 

 

Plan to be ready 30 minutes before you need to leave, Eliason said. 

“Something always comes up,” Eliason said. “That’s just family life. That slush time is really building margins into the morning routine so anything unexpected can be dealt with.” 

When Eliason’s four kids were little — all age 7 and younger, including a child with special needs — she and her husband Jeff quickly learned to budget extra time. 

“My husband would say, ‘We have to get out the door in five minutes. I’m like, ‘You’re insane. We can’t get four kids out the door in five minutes.’”

Sometimes parents need slush time for the occasional, inevitable power struggle, Olson said. 

“My kids have a different agenda than I do,” Olson said. “It’s funny to me that it’s the same routine every day, but they seem surprised — every day — that they have to brush their teeth, for example. I have to build in time for those battles.”

 

Prepare smoothies and other transportable breakfast items for reluctant eaters.  

While Norquist’s teenage boys get themselves up on their own in the morning now, she said she had to find a creative solution for breakfast, since they would rather sleep longer than take time to eat. So she makes breakfast smoothies for them and other breakfast options to eat on their way to school. 

Remember that in the long run, your goal is to raise self-governing, independent children. As they grow older, help them set their own alarms, learn to do their schoolwork and pick out their own clothes to build strong character and a solid work ethic. 

“You want to grow yourself out of a job. That’s ultimately the goal,” Eliason said. “You want them to not need you to coach and prompt them — because they can do those things on their own.”