Getting out the door on time. Remembering the permission slips. Extracting a few measly details on what they did all day. None of that is easy. Here’s pro advice on mastering the new routine.

By Betsy Goldberg and Elizabeth Passarella
Updated August 26, 2015
Rail and magnets for kids' art
Credit: Jonny Valiant
Rail and magnets for kids' art
Credit: Jonny Valiant

In the morning: Actually, back up

“Most of what we think of as a morning routine should really be a nighttime routine,” says ML Nichols, the author of The Parent Backpack. Lay out clothes; pack lunches; make sure homework is placed in backpacks. “When puberty hits, kids’ melatonin shifts—they go to bed later, and they wake up in a fog,” says Nichols, who has two teenagers. “Nighttime organization becomes even more crucial.” On Sunday night, take stock of the week’s activities. Organize and share calendars with an app such as Cozi (; which, like Real Simple, is owned by Time Inc.).

Create visual clues

For little kids, make a poster with photos of the steps: getting up, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, putting on shoes. “And laminate a picture of your child dressed so he can see what ‘ready’ looks like and immediately know what he’s missing,” says Nichols. Big kid always forgetting her lacrosse stick? Put it in the path to the door, says productivity expert Carson Tate, “so she has to walk over it on her way out.”

Expect to repeat yourself

No matter the age (or the cute posters), kids get distracted after you ask them to do something. “We realize the child didn’t do it, we react, and things escalate,” says Tina Payne Bryson, a pediatric psychotherapist and the author of The Whole-Brain Child. Take a deep breath. Follow up. Physical contact, such as hands on shoulders, also helps, especially for young kids.

Put weird stuff in the kitchen

If a trip upstairs to brush teeth results in a detour to la-la-land, keep toothbrushes in the kitchen. “I have a client with a kitchen drawer full of hair items,” says Tate. “While her girls are eating breakfast, she goes down the line and does hair.”

After school: Prepare for meltdowns

“Little ones have held it together all day and are ready to fall apart,” says Bryson. Kids of all ages are often dehydrated or have low blood sugar, which equals grumpiness. Have snacks on hand.

Play the Did-or-Didn’t? game

“How was your day? What did you do?” never works. Instead, Bryson recommends a version of the adult game Two Truths and a Lie. Your child offers three things she did during the day—two real, one fake—and you try to guess. “Or start telling stories about what you did in school. They love that,” says Nichols. “It always prompts them to share.”