9 secrets of stress-free school mornings
From forgotten homework to missing shoes, there’s seemingly no end of minor dramas that can all add up to make the morning routine the most stressful part of the day. ‘Everyone in the family has an agenda, and for parents, that’s to get their child to school on time,’ explains parent coach Anastasia Seale. ‘For the child, however, it could be to spend an extra 10 minutes in bed, or to finish building their Lego. Tension arises when these agendas clash, but a lot of the stress can be avoided if you and your child put your heads together and come up with a plan that will work for you both.’
So how can you make mornings less stressful for everyone, and drop your child at school with a smile rather than a scowl?
Know your child’s personality type
Some people are morning people, but others find it harder to get out of bed. ‘If you spend a bit of time working out what your child’s temperament is like, you can put in measures that will make mornings less stressful,’ says Anastasia.
If, for example, your child is a night owl, it might pay to do tasks like spellings and music practice in the evening rather than cramming them into the morning, so they have a few more minutes in bed. If they’re an early bird, they may like to leave them until the morning. ‘John sets his alarm and plays a bit of Xbox, gets dressed and has breakfast before I get up,’ says Karen Kirk, whose son is 10. ‘He’s happy to play until a set time, and then is ready to leave when I say.’
Do your evening prep
The more you get done the evening before, the less fraught your morning routine will be. ‘As soon as there’s a time pressure, everyone gets stressed, so it makes sense to set out uniforms and get books ready the night before,’ Anastasia advises.
‘We do as much as we can the night before: homework, ironing the uniform, making lunch and packing bags,’ says Jenny Turner, mum to Charlotte, seven. ‘Then all we have to do in the morning is have breakfast, wash, dress and do hair, and then we’re out of the door.’
Sort your bedtime routine
Most of us have a solid bedtime routine in the toddler stages, but this easily slips as your child gets older. ‘A bedtime routine is important to make sure your child is well rested and able to get out of bed in the morning,’ Anastasia explains. ‘In particular, make sure your child doesn’t have any screen time in the two hours before bed, because this can make it harder for them to fall asleep.’
Use cues and clues
If your morning routine involves repeatedly barking instructions at your child (‘Teeth!’ ‘Hair!’ ‘Shoes!’), using a physical reminder of what needs to be done can help to keep them on track. ‘A visual timetable with pictures of the tasks they need to do before school works really well, because if they’re falling behind, you can point them to the chart to see what they have to do next, rather than ending up shouting,’ says Anastasia.
For other families, music is the answer. ‘I give my children two songs to get dressed to, then I don’t have to nag so much, and they get a marble in their reward jars if they do it in time,’ says Roanna Dolan, mum to Oliver, five, Jacob, three, and Sebastian, 10 weeks.
Brainstorm your routine
‘We all like to have a say in how we do things, and if you give children a chance to share their opinions, they feel empowered and are much more likely to cooperate,’ Anastasia explains. A family brainstorming session where you talk about how the morning routine could work better for everyone can help to relieve those common flashpoints. For example, if your child gets side-tracked by playing in the morning, perhaps they could get up 10 minutes earlier, giving them a bit more free time amid all the chores.
When time is short, it’s tempting to give your child a helping hand to make sure they get ready on time. But helping them get dressed or pack their schoolbag could be counterproductive in the long run. ‘Instead of doing things for your child, use it as an opportunity to teach them to take responsibility, as ultimately, they will then be able to do more for themselves,’ Anastasia says.
‘I have got my children into a routine of what’s expected in the mornings,’ says Stacey McKitterick, mum to Caitlin, 10, and Sophie, five. ‘My eldest is more than capable of packing her own bag, and it helps a lot with independence.’
Use choices and consequences
‘It’s always a good idea for children to experience the natural consequences of their actions,’ explains Anastasia, so try to use this tactic, rather than shouting or punishments, in the mornings. For instance, if they’re refusing to get their shoes on, explain that they either need to do it quickly and get to school on time, or they will be late and have to have their name in the Late Book.
Set a countdown
No one likes a last-minute panic to get out of the house, so give your child frequent reminders of how long is left. This could be time checks for older children, or a different cue for younger ones who can’t tell the time. ‘I have an alarm clock in the living room, and when it rings, the children know they need to be ready,’ says Ena Olivetti, mum to Dani, seven, and Luca, four. ‘It helps me avoid getting stressed and shouting, which ruins my day.’
Take some time out
If things do go pear-shaped – and even with the best routine in the world, they sometimes do – take a few minutes to calm down. ‘It’s great to role-model giving yourself some time out,’ says Anastasia. ‘If things do get stressful, try to make sure you still give your child a big hug before you leave them at school, and then later, when everyone is less stressed, sit down and talk about what you could do differently tomorrow. Problem-solving goes a very long way.’
Anastasia is holding a webinar on stress-free morning routines on 28 July 2015. Visit www.anastasiaseale.co.uk/parent-sanity-cafe to sign up.