Mornings are rough. If you have to get your kids out the door by a certain time AND you have to be someplace (like work), it creates a recipe for strife and stress. Arguments over Cheerios, toothpaste and missing shoes can make a mom lose her hair and kids begin the day bewildered. There are strategies you can use to make your mornings easier, better, and improve the relationship between you and your children.

1. Gas Up

You know that feeling when you finally wrestle the kids into the car, get yourself situated and turn on the ignition…to find out you have hardly any gasoline?! This means guaranteed late arrival to work. The simple (or maybe not so simple) solution is to gas up the day before. If you know you’re low, gas up on the way home from work. If you are on a tight schedule after work each day also, then gas up when the tank is between ¼ and ½ and you’re not under pressure. This will prevent you from having to stop for gas when you’re running late.

2. Pajamas Shmajamas

This could be the single best time-saving technique since the invention of the microwave oven. Who says kids have to wear pajamas to bed? Why can’t they wear tomorrow’s clean clothes? Put them to bed in their school uniform or the next day’s outfit. When they wake up they’ll be happy they don’t have to get dressed. You’ll feel relief like the day your teacher let you go without assigning homework.

3. Make The Menu

If breakfast varies from morning to morning, find out what your kids want before they go to bed. Then, before you go to bed, take out what’s needed for the morning. If it’s cereal, put the box on the table along with bowls and spoons. If it’s bagels, put out plates, napkins, and cut bagels (in a bag for freshness). When the kids get to the table when the sun comes up, their breakfast is there to greet them. Score for mom.

4. Make Lunches At Night

We know you know this. But it’s worth repeating because making lunches is one mammoth chore. Scratching it off your To-Do list before you go to bed can make a tremendous, positive improvement in the a.m. If you can’t afford to buy individual snack bags of food, Sunday night, prepare for the week pre-portioned non-perishables the kids take each day: snack bags, pretzels, chips, etc. Then, each night when you are making lunches, just grab and toss the prepared bags into the lunchbox for the next day.

5. Lay Out Clothes At Night

Again, we know you know this. And again, it makes the mornings so much easier, if you prefer to not dress them the night before (Re: #2). If the clothes are already picked out, then the only challenge you have in this arena is getting them on their little bodies, which is enough of a challenge. Why make it harder by leaving clothes in the closet until the pressure is on in the morning? If your child insists on picking out her clothes, she can do it the night before. Be sure to include a pep talk that this is what she’ll wear in the morning.

6. Designate Spaces

How many times have you run around the house like a mad woman looking for your keys? If you get in the practice of always keeping your keys (and your wallet, purse, phone, charger, etc.) in a designated place, or places, you are more than likely to find these necessities right away. You can do this for your kids’ stuff too: backpack, lunch, library books, permission slips, etc. Ann Dolin, Education Specialist and author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, calls this space a “launch pad.”

7. Chart It

Kids who can see a visual representation of what is expected of them, either in pictures or in words, are more likely to do the tasks. The visual helps them anticipate. It helps the focus. It helps them feel a sense of accomplishment each time they finish a task. Here are some ideas for your chart, just in case you need them: brush teeth, walk dog, eat breakfast, get dressed, and put on your shoes. (Yes, putting on shoes gets its own category, so seemingly difficult is this endeavor.) Share other tasks in the comments below.

8. Pack At Night

When the homework is finished and any permission notes are signed, round up all the things needed for the next day and put them in the appropriate backpacks. It’s a chore, but it’s gotta get done sooner or later. Might as well get it done when you’re not racing like a maniac to catch the morning school bus or get the kids out to carpool and still make it to work on time. Doing it the day or the night before takes discipline, but you’re just tackling the inevitable at a more relaxed (albeit, probably, exhausting) time.

9. Connect 4

Not the game. Minutes. After a full night of sleeping by themselves, kids wake up craving time with their parents. This observation comes from Betsy Brown Braun, a child development and behavioral specialist and author of You’re Not The Boss Of Me. If you can give each of your kids four minutes of quality time, as impossible as that sounds, it could make for a much more manageable morning. Your four-minute time investment will likely motivate your kids to cooperate the rest of the morning instead of fighting to get your attention. (Two minutes can work the same magic, too.)

10. Give Positive Attention

Another way to avoid negative attention-getting behaviors is to notice and reward what your kids are doing. “Nice job, Joe, putting on your shirt by yourself.” “Great, Hailey, you found your shoes without Mommy’s help.” If you reward the positive behaviors with your attention, you are fostering more positive behaviors in the morning. Said differently, your kids are more likely to do what they need to do to get ready if it will make you happy. You just have to be ready with the verbal rewards and encouragement.

11. Give Choices

Everybody, even children, like to feel they have some control. Choices allow this, even if you are tightly controlling the choices. Do you want orange juice or milk? Cereal or a banana? Do you want to brush your teeth in the bathroom or in the kitchen? Are you going to put your pants or your shirt on first? According to Psychology Today, giving kids choices also builds respect, invites cooperation and develops problem solving skills. Just don’t overwhelm them with all the decision making. Let the kiddo think he’s got some control and hopefully he will be in control of the actions you lay out.

12. Get Dressed Right Away

If you don’t like the idea of wearing clothes to bed, getting dressed first thing could be the game changer. This is probably the most difficult task of the early hours, mostly because it’s non-negotiable. When push comes to shove, breakfast can be skipped (or sent in a bag), teeth can go unbrushed, hair can be put in a clip…but send your kid to school in pjs and you might get a phone call. So train your toddler to get dressed right away, and if your kids are already past that age, get them into the habit. Make it a game. Use a timer and challenge them to beat yesterday’s time.

13. Morning Music

Filling your home with morning music your kids like could be great for getting them going…and keeping them moving. Music has been proven to enhance moods and lower stress (which is probably more beneficial to you than your child). Music makes the atmosphere more fun. You can turn it into a game. The first person who is ready for school today gets to pick which music is played tomorrow. Or for an only child, she can race against the clock. Do you use this strategy already? Share your music recommendations below.

14. Get up earlier

This is undoubtedly the most difficult item on this list for parents. In the morning, every minute of sleep counts for two. However, if you can get up earlier than your kids, you have a fighting chance of getting yourself emotionally centered before they storm your room or the house. You can even go as far as waking up early with the intention of getting to work 15 minutes early. Even if you don’t achieve this bold goal, it will help you have more of a chance of NOT being late and rushing through the house and screaming at the kids.

15. Set the clocks ahead by 10 minutes

You can try tricking yourself into thinking you have fewer minutes than you really do have. This will cause you to either move faster or become more efficient. Slide that minute hand ahead 10 minutes! One mother who tried this said that even though she knew the clock was wrong, it still helped her to get everybody ready faster.

16. Post Lists

In the morning rush to get ready and the race out the door, it’s very easy to forget things you need for your day. Try hanging two lists by the door. One will include all the things you bring with you every day. Examples include purse, phone, laptop, breast pump. The other will include items specific for that day. This list can change daily and include items like a specific file folder or bank deposit. These lists can be helpful because your mind is juggling so much already, especially in the morning.