Low Demand Morning: supporting children who struggling getting ready for school.

The transition from home to school can be difficult for some children. For those with neurodiversity it can be full of triggers that will create a barrier to getting ready for school or create a ‘fight or flight’ response which doesn’t give the best emotional or physical start to a school day. I started to use low demand mornings to help get us out of the house on a positive footing meaning the walk to school and transitioning into the classroom is better for everyone.

What ‘low demand’ means to us?

Simply put it means minimizing triggers and instructions, especially those with a lot of sequences to them. It’s not about doing everything for your child or pandering to them just so they don’t do the things they dislike. It’s about prioritising what expectations are actually needed in the morning. Think of it as ‘pick your battles’ approach.

Why use low demand mornings?

Stress can have a physical affect on all of us, children are no different. Stress can trigger chemical reactions which raise heart rate, tighten muscle and cause rapid breathing. This creates a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Children with additional needs can be more sensitive to stressors that we as adult take for granted. This means our children will feel a physical reaction to change, options, too many sequence, fear of getting something wrong, being late etc. This has the knock on effect of emotional reaction, disregulation and the physical ‘come down’ as our bodies return to ‘normal’.

How it looks for us:

My children are early risers. Sometimes as early as 5.30am. We don’t leave for school/nursery until 8.30am so that’s a few hours to navigate. The night before I set two alarms on my eldests iPad. One to say it’s time to go downstairs and the second to start getting himself dressed and ready. This gives him prompts of when to get moving, without needing me to ‘nag’ him. Often if a device tells them it’s time children can respond more positively than an adult (who might use a ‘tone’ even if it doesn’t seem it to us).

I also create a ‘to do’ list on the iPad. It’s a basic list such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, breakfast time etc. My eldest is 8, and doesn’t always want to use the visuals anymore (I still use these with my youngest). Having the to do list has the same affect as the visual timetable but as it’s on the tablet he has more control of it. He can mark off what he’s done.

Before the first alarm the children can play in the rooms, come lay in our bed, watch things on tablets. I see it as the equivalent of me laying in bed checking social media as a gentle wake up. We then go downstairs and although I keep things basic, it’s when expectations that are a ‘most’ begin.


Sensory/restrictive diet can mean breakfasts are a trigger. These are my eldest ‘safe breakfast’ items right now.

I make the boys breakfast. On weekends and holidays the boys help more but on school/nursery mornings I reduce demand but making it for them and letting them choose where to eat. Making breakfast involves lots of decisions, choices, sequencing and things can go wrong (one of my sons triggers is when things aren’t ‘just right’). This way the children can focus on energising their bodies and physical health. Again, I’m not going to demand they eat it all. I don’t appreciate people telling me how much to eat so I’m not going to force them (encouragement is fine). If I think that they haven’t eaten enough to sustain them I’ll take a bar or digestive for them to eat on the way.

Personal hygiene

We bath in the evenings as a wind down to bed so the boys don’t need to wash in the mornings. They simply have to brush their teeth and wash hands if messy from breakfast. I don’t worry about it being done ‘right’ in the mornings (I do guide more on evenings), as long as they gave it a go. Thankfully my eldest has short hair so I rarely have to do anything to it. But if it does need a bit of ‘shaping’ that goes on the list.

Getting dressed

Both children benefit from the visual sequencing

I set out the clothes into piles and the boys grab them. My eldest gets himself dressed and I help my youngest. We just chat, keeping things light and I assist where needed. Having uniform is definitely an advantage as they know what the expectation of ‘how to look is’. There’s no choice or worrying about wearing something ‘wrong’. On non-uniform days and events I give choices of outfits the night before, so they don’t have to focus on the decision in the morning.

Having it ready in a pile cuts out a big chunk of demand of having to go find it themselves. If we are a bit on the drag I won’t try and hurry along as it ends up going one of two ways – it turns into a comedy routine or it ends up with getting angry at things not going how he wants. One of the reasons we have the second ‘get ready’ alarm is to ensure we leave time for things like this.

Shoes and coats are always in the same place so they can just be grabbed. The children have to put them away when they come in from school so they know where to then find them in the morning.

Get out the door

By having this basic, low demand routine we usually make it out the door in time, and on a happy note (just the usual ‘I don’t want to go to school’ grumbles). I notice a pattern that if he goes into the school following a challenging start to the day, he usually has a challenging school day. However, since changing to low demand, he is able to go in and settle himself.

It’s not a perfect system, and there will always be things that crop up and routines can change but there’s been a definite improvement for us.

I’d love to know your thoughts and what your mornings look like. Let me know in the comments or come find me on Instagram.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. mrsshepunplugged says:

    These are really helpful tips. I’m still winging it and finding my way so I’m always after any more tips. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mummyest2014 says:

      Happy to share what works for us. Lots of trial and error to get where we are 😆 x


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