how to get behaviourally challenged children ready in the morning
how to get behaviourally challenged children ready in the morning

Getting out the door on time and without tears

The struggle to get kids ready in the morning is common in many households, but not usually at the level experienced by families with behaviourally challenging children.

Need to know: Mornings get easier when you understand your child’s needs

The struggle to get kids ready in the morning is common in many households, but not usually at the level experienced by families with behaviourally challenging children.

Mornings create the perfect storm for intense emotions because families have many things to do within a short timeframe. This is where a consistent routine, your ability to be flexible, as well as knowing your child’s triggers – and their capabilities – come into play.

Why it’s important

Your child might be exhibiting challenging behaviours in the morning for many reasons, which can be linked to sensory issues, underdeveloped motor skills, memory, difficulty with transitions, motivation, or defiance.

Two essentials for smoothing out your mornings are empathy and picking your battles. On some days you might have to step in and just do what needs to be done yourself. Let your child know by telling them, “I can see you are having a really hard time packing your bag today. Would you like some help?”

Tips and strategies

Plan ahead. Reduce your stress by being organised: set out clothes, make lunches and do any other prep you can the night before. Get up early and give yourself plenty of time to deal with any hiccups. If you are calm then you will help to keep everyone else calm.

Create, and stick to, a routine. Kids need routine because it sets expectations, builds good habits, and creates a predictable and safe environment. Some days will be better and some will be worse, but it’s important to have a routine even if it doesn’t always work.

Make a checklist. Having many tasks to complete can be overwhelming for a child and stretch their memory. A visual representation of tasks on a board can help to keep your child on track. Keep all the tasks visible on a whiteboard or laminated sheet so they can refer to it every morning.

Make transitions easier. A timer can help your child transition between activities. Give them a 5 and a 2 minute reminder to prepare them for completing one task and starting a new one. Make transitions fun by turning them into a game: kids love to play the floor is lava to the bathroom, piggyback ride to breakfast, or challenges such as getting to the bedroom in 10 steps or less, etc.

Keep motivation high. There are always more interesting things to be doing than packing a bag! Gamify your morning routine and create small rewards or tokens for completing tasks to increase your child’s motivation. Add tokens/marbles to a visible clear bowl, which at the end of the day or week can be exchanged for screen time, park visits or pocket money.

Find the triggers. Record your child’s behaviour and their likely triggers to help you adjust your expectations. Once you know what is causing certain behaviours, you can make accommodations to support your child.

Hone fine motor skills. A child’s fine motor ability can influence everything from putting on their clothes to tying their shoelaces. If you find that your expectations are not in line with your child’s abilities, you will need to help them with the trickier tasks until they get enough practice and improve those skills.

Be aware of sensory issues. If essential tasks such as brushing teeth or brushing hair could be triggering meltdowns in your child, consider using mouthwash or try a different brush. If socks are also an issue, step back and consider an alternative, or ask yourself if they are necessary.

Sidestep defiance. It’s extremely frustrating when every request is met with a no. For some children, this is triggered by not having control. Try to give them options such as, “Would you prefer to get dressed or have your breakfast first.” This can remove the pressure and give them autonomy of choice. Language also matters, gentle requests are preferable rather than demands.


  1. School Mornings Without the Stress – Child Mind Institute
  2. The Importance of a Daily Schedule for Kids with ADHD: Sample Routines and More
  3. Routines: behaviour management strategy | Raising Children Network
  4. Starting Your Day off Right: Making the Most of Morning Routines

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