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How to Get Your Children to School on Time

Updated on June 19, 2013

Don't Be Late for School!

The author's children, who now get ready for school on time.
The author's children, who now get ready for school on time. | Source

Running Late for School: A Common Problem

Hectic mornings are familiar to every parent. In our own family, mornings used to be filled with stress and anxiety, as we tried to get two distractible boys dressed and to the bus stop by 8:00 in the morning.

The scene usually went like this:

  • 7:00 am: Wake boys, who sleepily stumble down the stairs.
  • 7:15 am: Encourage boys to eat their breakfast, while I make lunches.
  • 7:30 am: Tell the boys to get dressed.
  • 7:35 am: Realize the boys have run off to the playroom.
  • 7:40 am: Find homework and library books, while calling to the boys to get dressed again.
  • 7:45 am: Notice half-dressed boys have run off again, and are into the Lego bin.
  • 7:55 am: Physically help dress the boys.
  • 8:00 am: Run for the bus stop, barely making it there in time.

This "system" (or lack thereof) was not working for our family, and we needed a way to help our children focus on the morning tasks. We have found several techniques that have improved our time management before school, and the boys are never running "late" with our new system.

Take-Home Point

  • Prevent clothing battles by choosing clothes the night before school.

Choose Clothes the Night Before School

Digging through a dresser drawer or closet wastes precious minutes in the morning. Children often can't find the clothes they like, or try to put on mis-matched outfits. Some children may be very picky about what clothes they will or will not wear on a given day.

To solve this problem, we placed a bookcase at the end of each boy's bed. Every evening, the boys select the clothes they will wear to school the following day. We have a hard and fast rule about clothes: once they have chosen their outfits, they may not change their minds the next morning. This rule caused some tears initially, particularly for our younger son, who is quite picky about his clothes. After about 2 weeks of tears, however, the rule has been a lifesaver and he chooses and wears his clothes without any trouble.

This routine has saved approximately 15 minutes of time in our morning schedule.

Take-Home Point

  • Keep things organized to save time in the mornings.

Have a Dedicated Spot for Library Books and Homework

Special days at school, like library day or show-and-tell, create extra hassles in the morning. My boys used to leave their library books on their dresser, or on the dining room table... or in the closet. Finding library books or a special toy for show-and-tell was an extra headache on some mornings.

We installed hooks in our mudroom for each boy, and backpacks are always placed on the hooks. We have a dedicated shelf for library books and show-and-tell toys just above the backpack hooks. Once the library books have been read, they must be placed on the shelf the night before library day. Objects for show and tell must be placed on the shelf the night before school, and homework must be placed into the backpack the night before it is due.

Take-Home Point

  • Use a timer to keep kids focused.

Use a Timer to Get Kids Moving

Use a timer as part of a "racing" game - this helps children who have a competitive spirit maintain focus during the morning rush.
Use a timer as part of a "racing" game - this helps children who have a competitive spirit maintain focus during the morning rush. | Source

Race the Timer: Motivational Game

Children are very distractible, and may lose focus in the mornings. They would rather play with toys, or pet the dog, or do any number of things rather than getting dressed and brushing teeth.

One of our boys had a hard time keeping his focus in the mornings. We discovered a great way to help him keep his focus and get dressed within a reasonable time frame: the Timer Game.

"Matthew," I would say, "I bet you can't get dressed in less than five minutes!"

My son is extremely competitive and was up for the challenge.

"Yes I can! Start the timer!"

I would set the timer on the microwave to five minutes - he was always dressed within this time frame and would beam when the timer went off and he was standing in the dining room, completely dressed. He liked to beat the timer, and felt like he had won a fun game.

For the timer game to remain successful, there are some key points to follow:

  • Do not set the timer for too long of a time period - if the "game" is too easy, the child may lose focus and not care.
  • Do not set the timer for too short of a time period - the "game" must be winnable for the child. 5 minutes is a good time allotment for getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc. Easier tasks, like putting a backpack into the car, may only require a minute or two.
  • Do not make the game stressful - the goal is to have fun and race the clock, not to create anxiety over time limits. If the exercise becomes stressful, discontinue the technique as it will become counterproductive.

Take-Home Point

  • Reward responsible behavior.

Hectic School Mornings

Reward System for Finishing Tasks On Time

Instituting a reward system is highly effective in motivating kids to complete their morning tasks in a reasonable amount of time. If our boys are ready for school on time, they earn "time tickets" they can use later in the day. Each ticket is worth 15 minutes of time spent on electronic media - they can use the ticket to watch a TV show, play a computer game, or the tablet. Our kids are not allowed to watch TV without the tickets, so they have to earn this privilege by completing their required tasks on time.

They love earning the reward tickets, and I love the way this system limits the amount of TV they watch each day. This system can be altered to suit a family's particular needs: the reward could be a fun trip to the zoo at the end of the month, time on electronic media, or a trip to the dollar store to pick out a toy of their choosing.

My boys have learned that if they get their morning chores out of the way quickly, they have more time for fun things later in the day.

Reward Good Behavior

Let kids earn time toward electronic media, a family outing, or other rewards when they are ready for school on time.
Let kids earn time toward electronic media, a family outing, or other rewards when they are ready for school on time. | Source

Take-Home Point

  • Kids need to be held accountable.

Excellent Parenting Book

Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child's Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days
Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child's Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days

This book is an excellent guide for parents who want to help their children develop a sense of responsibility.


Let Them Face the Music

Kids who are chronically late need to face the natural consequences of their actions. If they are not ready for school on time, then let them be late for school. It may help to discuss a plan of action in advance with the school guidance counselor or vice principal, who will know in advance that little "Jimmy" may be late for school the next day.

If your child chooses to continually dawdle in the mornings, let him explain himself to the principal when he arrives late at school. If she is running late and forgot to put his homework in his backpack, then let her go to school without her homework. This can be an excruciating thing for "helicopter" parents to do, but it is vital that kids learn their actions (or lack of actions) have consequences.

A famous psychologist by the name of Kevin Leman relates a story about a middle-school child who was always late for school. His mother needed him in the car by 8:00 every morning, and the child was never ready by that time. She carpooled several other children, and was stressed because her son's lateness made all the other children late, too. Dr. Leman suggested that she simply take the other children to school, even if her son wasn't ready.

The following morning, she took his advice and left promptly at 8:00 am. Her son wasn't ready, and wasn't in the car. She took all of the other children to school and returned home. Her son was standing in the garage, dressed, and upset.

"MOM! I'm late! Do you know what TIME IT IS?" the child demanded.

"Of course. It is 9:00," the mother answered, as cool as a cucumber. She drove him to school, where he had to face the consequences of being late without an excusing note. After the incident, however, he was never late for school again.

Late for School: A Poll

Why are your children late for school?

See results


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    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      I have clothing drama with my younger son - I can only imagine how difficult it would be with a 10 year old girl, Glimmer Twin Fan! Sticking to the rules is what finally eased our morning clothing battles - it also helps us to have the right type of clothes for the day (my boys play tennis on Fridays, for example, so we set out track pants the night before so they don't forget).

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      5 years ago

      This is great advice. My daughter is 10 and her big am drama is picking out clothes. Have tried the method of picking outfits the night before, but have not stuck to it. I think we need to give it another shot. Awesome hub! Pinned.

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      Thanks, Peggy - we have worked really hard to develop a good routine, and that is half the battle. We also moved bedtime back by half an hour, so the kids would be less tired the following morning!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Leah,

      This is some great advice for parents to follow with regard to getting their children off to a good start each day. I can easily see this becoming a Hub of the Day! Up, useful and interesting votes.

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      Too funny, LongTimeMother! I have had a few mornings where I was the one running behind - once I overslept because I didn't hear the alarm when it went off! Fortunately I managed to get the kids to school in the nick of time, but it can happen - even to the adults!

      I have a bad tendency to stay up too late at night - I crave the "quiet time" after the kids have gone to bed, and the next thing I know it is midnight. My little one has medical equipment that must be tended to at around 4 am, so I can be a walking zombie some days!

    • LongTimeMother profile image


      5 years ago from Australia

      Am I the only parent who is guilty of being slower to get going in the morning than my kids? On the rare occasion when my kids arrived late to school it was always my fault. As soon as they grew old enough to take themselves to school, they were always on time. If they'd known about time tickets (great idea!) they could have used them on me. "Get me to school on time and you can have 15 minutes on the computer tonight!"

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      Timers are a great help with helping kids keep their focus, sgbrown. I use it when it is time to clean their room, brush their teeth, or get ready for school. Now that my older son is seven, we need it less often and he is generally able to get his tasks done on time. I still use the technique for my 5 year old, though!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      My kids are all grown now, but this is great advise! I used to use the "race the timer" motivation a lot, it worked most of the time. Great hub! Voted up and useful and emailing this link to my daughter-in-law! :)

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      Maybe if we considered the time clock at work our "timer," it would be a little more fun, Lipnancy!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      These games make it more fun for the kids. Maybe adults should try these too.

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      The timer method really worked for us, ShaliniSays. My older son responded very well to the "game" and it made our mornings manageable.

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      Thanks, teaches12345 - my children are still young so simple games like the timer method and positive reinforcement work well. The teenage years are another ballgame altogether and kids need to start accepting the consequences for lateness - it is an important life lesson!

    • ShaliniSays profile image

      Anitha S Joseph 

      5 years ago from Zionsville, IN

      Great hub. I am so going to try the timer method!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Every parent struggles with this at some point in their child's life. Usually happens around those wonderful pre-teen and early teen years. Great suggestions. Hopefully, it won't come to facing the music, but then once they have heard the tune it probably won't happen again. Voted up.

    • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lefler 

      5 years ago from Western New York

      The timer game made a HUGE difference for our older son! He is very competitive and loved beating the clock. It really helped him focus, as we had terrible difficulty with getting him to "stay on task" in the mornings. He is seven years old now and no longer requires the clock - the routine is so ingrained that he gets ready without any hassle. We're still working on my five year old, though - he is now the one who tends to get distracted and runs off when he should be getting ready. The reward system works best for him!

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 

      5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Very good hub - I struggle to leave the house on time in the mornings because of motivating my son. We are all very slow at that time, but it makes us all late! My child would love the timer game, as he too is very competitive!

      Reward charts are also a great idea - thanks for these tips.


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