Teaching kids to take charge of morning routine

Nov 4, 2009 at 12:30 p.m. ET

Some of us moms are not exactly morning people. Getting the kids up and going is a challenge not because of any action on the kids' part, but simply because we're groggy. If you're like me, you've found your own coping strategies through the years; mine involves copious amounts of coffee.

Teen boy cooking in the kitchenOne of the great things about kids getting older is their ability to do more for themselves. Mornings -- and school mornings in particular -- are a case in point. As kids get to about third or fourth grade, they can get their own breakfasts and even assemble their own lunches. While you still need to get up and be with them, you don't need to do as much for them -- provided you set things up to promote an appropriate level of self-sufficiency.

Keep it simple

With three kids getting on three different buses each school morning in our home, mornings are actually rather long. In addition, work schedules for my husband and me shift so one of us is always getting out of the house on the early side. There's no single "get up and get dressed" time; each child has his own time to be up, get ready, get breakfast and get out the door. Sure, sitting down to a family breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon would be nice, but a single breakfast time or meal just isn't going to happen.

Instead, we keep a variety of self-serve breakfast items in the house, such as cereals, yogurts, frozen waffles, bagels, toast, jam, cream cheese and fruit. What constitutes a decent breakfast varies by each child's tastes (though I do guide the nutritional content). My younger son has learned how to make himself pizza bagels in the toaster oven, while my older son likes peanut butter toast and my daughter is big on yogurt. I keep everything in accessible cabinets and don't have anything that requires sharp knives.

Check out some quick breakfast ideas here!

My older kids also are required to put together their lunches (my daughter is still too young for that). We keep rolls, cold cuts and condiments in supply for sandwiches, as well as yogurts, fruit, mini carrots, cheese sticks and other small, easily packable items. I check most days to see that they actually have a well rounded midday meal, but the boys put it all together themselves (though we're still working on the putting-the-dirty-prep-items-in-the-dishwasher-when-you-are-done part).

Get 5 healthy brown bag lunch ideas here!

Quiet together time

Meanwhile, as my kids do all this stuff themselves, I am around. I'm not absent or still asleep; while I probably could squeeze in a few more winks while my kids get moving, I don't think that's particularly fair. My kids know to let me have my coffee mostly in peace during this morning time, but they do ask for help if needed. As the morning progresses, we're a little more chatty and we talk about what the school day brings. Although I sometimes am annoyed at this triple bus schedule, I do recognize that it gives me one-on-one time -- albeit groggy -- with each of my kids.

Other parts of the day

Since we started this school year and I've been more explicit about self-sufficiency in the mornings, it has flowed out to the rest of the day. The kids are better at helping get some items prepped for dinner and things like that -- they have more confidence in the kitchen. I know that if I am running late, I can call my oldest son and ask him to get a couple things ready for me to make dinner the moment I walk in the door. They both have started to come up with ideas for meals and snacks they'd like to try eating or making themselves.

Promoting self-sufficiency was borne out of necessity, but it has made our house more pleasant in the morning -- and has given the kids more confidence and independence throughout the entire day.

For more tips on getting kids moving in the morning