Inside: Four science-based tips from a child psychologist to banish grumpiness help your kids wake up happy. Create a morning routine for kids that actually works! Happy mornings set the tone for the whole day.
I remember when my son was a toddler and he would come into our room in the morning (a little earlier than I would have liked) with the widest grin and ready for the day. My husband and I would look at each other and say, “well, it’s early, but at least he’s happy!”
We are a family of sleeper-iners. We all like to sleep in. Even my son’s “early” wake-ups, weren’t really that early. He never woke at 5 am, rarely even 6 am.
My husband always tells the story of how when he was a kid, his bed-head family would just be sitting down for breakfast in their nook at the front of their house while outside they could see all the kids from the street who had been up and playing outside already for hours.
I guess it should be no surprise that once my son started school, I would have to wake him up. No matter what time he goes to bed, I have to wake him up. About a month into Kindergarten (which is exhausting for any kid), he stopped wanting to get up at all.
So, we changed up our morning routine. It’s been almost a month since we had a truly grumpy morning. I made four little changes and our mornings are happy again, as if by magic, but actually it’s just brain science. 😉
Four Science-Based Hacks for Happy Mornings with Kids Who Don’t Want to Get Up
First, obviously, do make sure your child is getting enough sleep. They need way more than you realize — here is a great chart about when they should be going to bed to get the recommended amount of sleep that they need.
And they need quality sleep too. To read more about that, check out my bedtime routine post–> Related: A Science-Backed Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep
Note: If you suspect that it is a deeper issue or truly a problem at school, please consult with your pediatrician or school counselor.
1. Let in the Light
When my son was younger and we wanted every minute of extra sleep we could get, we invested in black-out shades, curtains — anything to block that morning light so he would stay in bed just a little longer.
I go into my son’s 10 minutes earlier than he needs to get out of bed and I open his blinds, just a tad. Our bodies and our brains are designed to wake up to light.
Light, literally, wakes up the brain.
Less than two decades ago scientists discovered a new class of cells on the retina of the eye that have nothing to do with vision, they are there to absorb light and help set our circadian rhythms or our sleep-wake cycle.
In preparation for the dark winter mornings ahead, I am looking into these light therapy wake-up clocks for the whole family, studies show that users report that they wake up more pleasantly and find it easier to get out of bed.
2. Turn on the Music: Happy Wake Up Songs for Kids
First, we let natural light (if possible) begin to wake up the brain through the eyes, and then we focus on the auditory system. A few years ago Spotify reached out to Dr. David Greenberg, a psychologist whose work has specialized in how music can affect mental health, to create the perfect morning playlist to help people wake up. You can find that playlist here: Wake Up on Spotify.
Dr. Greenberg uses three elements to create his playlist:
1. Music that builds (songs that start gently and then pick up).
2. Positivity (songs with positive lyrics and messages).
3. Songs with a strong beat.
For my son, I put some of his favorite songs from movie soundtracks into a playlist and I’ll start playing it on a low volume level when I go in and open his blinds.
It starts with Linus & Lucy from the Vince Guaraldi Trio which is a great song that builds, then Wonderful Life by Zendaya from the movie Smallfoot, then Better When I’m Dancing by Meghan Trainor from the movie Trolls. I round it out with songs from Despicable Me, Secret Life of Pets, and more from Trolls.
These first two things have completely turned around our mornings. No more grumpiness. No more morning stomach aches. Also, the burden is lifted off of me to drag him out of bed.
Which brings me to point #3.
3. Wake Your Child Up 10 Minutes Earlier
The last thing you’d think to do with a grumpy child who doesn’t want to get up is to wake them up even earlier right? I realized I was trying to let my son sleep as long as possible and then expected him to jump out of bed, get dressed, eat and run to school.
Who wants to do that? I am definitely not one for jumping out of bed. Why should I expect this from my own child???
So, now I go into my son’s room 10 to 15 minutes earlier than he needs to get up. I open the blinds to let in more light, I turn on the music, then I leave. I go make my coffee, feed the dog, sit for a moment myself, and by the time I go back in (with the dog for extra fluffiness and happy starts to the day) — he’s ready to wake up and with that smile!!
Oh, that smile — I missed it. And maybe it isn’t as easy to get that carefree toddler smile as it once was. The world of a school-age child is bigger, with more pressures and challenges. I want our home to be a place where the pressure is off — where we can all recharge.
These are little things — music and light, but they can change the whole tone of your mornings.
4. Follow a Routine: Visual Routine Charts for Toddlers and Kids
Have a clear routine with visual cues that show the steps of getting ready for the day. Visual routine charts help keep kids on track and empower them because it helps them feel like they are in charge of themselves.
When you start a new routine, kids may be hesitant or even resistant at first. But if you are consistent and fill your mornings with light and music, they will become invested in having a fun and happy morning too!
For young children, the concept of time is abstract. This is why transitions and getting ready to go places create moments of tension and power struggles. A visual routine chart can help make abstract concepts like ‘get ready’ and ‘time to go’ concrete without you having to hover over them each step of the way.
Once everyone gets used to having a routine, and it is consistent, kids will feel a sense of predictability about the mornings. For kids, predictability leads to them feeling secure. When kids feel secure, they have lower stress and mornings are happier all around!
I hope you have some happy mornings coming your way soon!
Try these Daily Routine Charts and Cards to help create visual reminders for kids in the morning –> Daily Routine Printable Charts & Cards.