The countdown is on for the start of the new school year (I, for one, am ticking off the days), but, if you’re dreading the return of the associated morning madness as much as I am, then read on for a tried and tested, stress-free routine that actually works.

By Cathy Martin with contributor Amanda  Maguire of


1.       Tidy house, tidy mind! Do you put dinner dishes in the dishwasher or wash them at the sink right after dinner? Or are they still there at bedtime? One way to feel less stressed in the morning is to wake up with the kitchen – and especially the dishes - done, so best tackle that right after dinner if you can, and then you can relax a little with your evening. While you’re at it, maybe also wipe down the worktops, put the rubbish out and soak that baking dish so you’re literally starting afresh the next day. I hear lots of people talk about misplacing car keys and all sorts, but we have a strict rule that house and car keys ALWAYS go into the little tray by the door, so they’re rarely, if ever lost.

As my all-time fave housekeeper and manager of kids Mary Poppins once said (quoting Samuel Smiles of course) 'A place for everything and everything in its place

2.       Shop smart & pre-prep lunches: if your child takes a packed lunch or snack, then try to start to prep lunchboxes with non-refrigerated items (although I do know mums who prep everything and pop the whole lunchbox in the fridge to save morning minutes). It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but there is a definite smugness when you just have to grab ‘n’ go with the lunchbox in the morning!  And who wants to open the fridge door on a wet school morning to find you’ve run out of smoothies, yoghurts, cheese squares or carrot sticks (or indeed whatever your little one loves for lunch or snack)?  If you’re a single mum like me, a late night supermarket run once they’ve gone to bed is out of the question. And a quick-stop dash to the shop in the morning is impossible to factor in timewise, so take stock early and sort it out as required.

3.       Leave out uniform, clothes and shoes: You can (and should) encourage the kids to get involved here and do this themselves from as early as Primary 1. And in winter, maybe pop them onto a radiator so they’re super cosy for your little ones getting ready in the morning. Paired socks and underwear all pre set out prevents those long, drawn out (and agonising to listen to) calls of ‘muuuuuuum, where’s my….?’  when you’re trying to get ready yourself. Another good point, learnt the hard way, is to try and have a clean uniform or spare clothes to hand too. This takes the stress out of the inevitable breakfast spills or those moments when you notice a streak of pink paint down the arm of a school jumper 10 minutes before you’re due to leave the house. Or, in my case, when you’re getting into the car. PS I recommend parents to do this with their own clothes to remove any time wasting deciding what to wear; it is revolutionary. On gym days, I pack my work clothes in my gym bag so I’m all set to go once I shower there. On superhero days, my gym bag and clothes are popped out to the car the night before. But TBF I rarely have superhero days.

4.       It seems obvious, but I often forget to check Valentina’s bag for teacher notes and extra titbits of homework, reading or project work. We’ve all been there at 08.55 trying to find empty loo rolls we’ve just been told about! A quick check after dinner and/or when prepping uniform will prevent last minute panics and give time for you (or rather, them) to complete forgotten tasks.  Make sure everything else that is needed for next day is left out (for us, by the door or in the hall) including PE kits, musical instruments, costumes for assemblies or signed slips for school trips and so on. You get the drift. Again, I would encourage kids to lead here if you can. And no screen time until it’s done!

5.       Abolish the Ablutions!: Have a bath the night before to save time in the morning. I do love a shower in the morning but sometimes I just know that given the choice between 10 more minutes in bed and a shower I will gladly take the 10 minutes’ kip! Having said that, I’m often straight into gym gear and shower after class or a run when I have peace and no kids around! Plus, in our house, Valentina doesn’t bathe every night or indeed every morning – instead opting for two or three showers a week, usually after swimming. I’m a firm believer that too much washing isn’t great for our skin and a weekly bath from post nappies until puberty never did me any harm!



6.       Get up early: Some mums just seem to have their shizzle together more than others. I’m definitely more often in the ‘others’ category, although I would love to be one of those who gets a workout in, or is showered and ready in peace with a hot coffee or a healthy green juice or smoothie while listening to an inspirational podcast before the children wake up. Imagine!? This is the dream… but I just love the quiet of late night working too much to do this regularly.

7.       Prep breakfast: Limit breakfast choices to a couple of options to save time making decisions as well as the possible arguments. Thankfully, Valentina has a brioche, a crepe or a croissant with Nutella most mornings and it’s been that way since she started school. I appreciate it would be considered quite a sugar-heavy breakfast for some mums, but the rest of her day is quite healthy so I take the French approach to brekkie and fuel up on calories at the start of the day with a view to burning them all off!

8.       Timings: Make sure everyone knows what time you need to leave the house and give them plenty of reminders if necessary. I use my phone and set different sounding alarms for 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc, which works.  This means I’m not shouting or clock watching (as much) which greatly reduces parental stress levels in the morning.

9.       The List: Valentina has a list of four things she has to do herself with a strict house rule of no TV, technology or other activities until she has time to spare. Her four things are:

·         Get Dressed

·         Brush Teeth

·         Brush Hair

·         Eat Breakfast & put away breakfast dishes

I’ve seen this described as a ‘need to do’ list and a ‘want to do’ list. In other words, they can do the things they want to do once the things they need to do, like brushing their teeth, eating breakfast etc. are completed. It helps children stay motivated and avoids unwanted distractions.




10.   Keep calm! Even with the best laid plans, not all mornings will run smoothly; and that’s OK. The important thing is how you react. Don’t let a sleep in or a bad 5 minutes ruin your whole day. If something doesn’t go according to plan, try to let it go, ask for help and reallocate a task to someone else. Or if you’re a single mum like me with no one else around, simply take a minute to yourself and breathe. The worst that will happen is you find yourself being brought to task by a child because you forgot to do something you were supposed to do…

The overriding rule though? It’s important to involve the children, making sure they understand the benefits of the routine and take responsibility for their tasks. When kids feel included and listened to they are more willing to follow the routine and became more independent and self-disciplined in general, not just in the mornings.

 Roll on La Rentrée!