Stop that! Be quiet! Quit playing at the table and eat breakfast! Behave! Hurry up; you’ll be late! How many times do I have to tell you, prepare your backpack before you go to bed?

Parents at their wits end with the morning rush of getting everyone ready for school and work may find themselves yelling these phrases to sleepy kids. Peaceful morning routines don’t happen with the phrases above. Cultivating good behavior is facilitated when we cultivate good communication habits with our children.

Back-to-school time can bring a sense of new beginnings. We can start new routines to make mornings happier and less stressful. A few suggestions may be helpful for launching back-to-school routines that set and affirm positive behavior. Behaviorists tell us discipline that promotes positive behavior is more effective than trying to extinguish negative behavior.

1. Praise, affirm and reward the good behavior.

When you see good behavior in your children, praise it, praise it, praise it. It is much more effective to affirm the positive behavior when you see it, such as praising kids for doing homework, treating others respectfully or being responsible for themselves. Here are a few examples.

  • “I really like how you put your finished homework in your backpack so we don’t have to look for it in the morning.”

  • “Thank you for hanging up your coat so we find it easily again in the morning.”

  • “Thanks so much for pulling your little brother’s uniform out of the dryer when you got your own.”

  • “Wow! You are up 5 minutes earlier. Thanks for setting your own alarm. I love hugging you in the morning instead of nagging you to get up.”

2. Redirect negative behavior.

When bad behavior occurs, state the behavior you want and offer an alternative. Giving children choices empowers them to take responsibility for their own lives and behavior. Knowing a child’s interests and motivations is necessary to be successful in redirecting behavior. Here are two examples.

  • When Grace rushes through her tooth brushing and face washing routines, I ask her to go back and try again so she can be first to pick what she wants to go in her lunchbox for the day. 

  • If Juan is late to the breakfast table because he forgot to set his alarm, you may want to tell him something like this, “Since you missed breakfast in order not to make your brother and sister late, you can choose to take an apple and granola bar in the car or a pear and dry cereal box in your backpack for later.”

3. Prepare for success.

Have a school preparation plan, work the plan and reward the plan. Set clear expectations and follow through.

  • Go to Bed On Time and Set a Personal Alarm

    Kids and adults can’t get up for school on time without going to bed on time. Establish positive bedtime rituals and keep them. (Reading books is ideal). Buy your children their own alarm and praise them when they use it to get up.

  • Backpack Preparation

    Backpacks should be packed the night before school. When they are, reward that positive behavior with special praise or a colored pencil or sticker.

  • School Clothes Preparation

    Setting uniforms out the night before with all the accessories (including socks) helps avoid the morning rush. Reward children when they do by allowing a special privilege when they get home that afternoon.

  • Practice what you preach.

    Modeling the behavior you want is foundational to morning routine success. “See, I got my laptop bag ready for work ahead of time; I am so proud of myself!”

  • Behavior Chart and Reward System

    Behavior Charts help kids take responsibility for their own behavior instead of parents reminding or nagging. “Did you brush your teeth?” or “did you remember to give the dog fresh water?” Put the behaviors needed to be accomplished before leaving for school on a poster board in list form. Put a check or gold star on the behaviors when kids do them without being reminded. When the checks, stars or points add up, reward the kids every Friday. It is truly amazing what kids will do for a sticker book or what tweens will do for movie tickets.


Laura Lyles Reagan is a freelance writer, family sociologist and the mother of two daughters. She can be reached for parent coaching sessions through her website at heart2heartparents.com