The time has finally come – some of you will be sending your child back to school next week following the COVID19 lockdown. This is going to be a mixed bag of emotions for children and parents alike for many, many reasons. I could write pages on the thoughts going through my head as to whether or not I should send my Reception aged child back next week when her big sister, who is transitioning from Infant to Junior School this summer, might not get to go back at all. But that’s another conversation for another time.
It’s been a long time since we went into lockdown. It might be a longer time still if your child isn’t going back yet and you’re reading this a few weeks down the line. (Obviously this blog is only going to apply to some this week, and others at a later date.) No doubt routines are going to have slipped and (hopefully!) home life has become relaxed. So how are you going to get everyone out the door on time when you finally have to?
These are the things I try to do in the mornings to establish a calm and happy morning that gets us to school on time. No, we are not a perfect family. Yes, I lose my rag and get it wrong sometimes. I am human, just like we all are, just like our children are.
Before I start - I don't want to teach you to suck eggs. I'm going to assume that you have some kind of morning routine - that things are done in roughly the same order each morning. If you don't do this, then try it. It will make a big difference.
Tip 1 – Less voice for you, more ownership for them.
Try using your voice less. Give your child a list of what they need to do, and let them get on with. This might be a set of visual symbols, it might be a list of words, it might be photos of them getting ready. Break their morning routine down into steps – get dressed / breakfast / clean teeth etc. and show them these steps visually. Then, if they get distracted or can't remember what they need to do next you can direct them back to their list - it has all the information they need. This gives your child ownership, lets them feel grown up and builds their confidence as they realise that they can do things for themselves. Not to mention, you should feel better from not having to nag! If your child has additional needs they may need these steps broken down further - consider visuals that show each step of getting dressed and of brushing teeth, etc.
Tip 2 - Remove Distractions
If your child is one that finds it hard to stay focused and has a tendency to get involved in other things, then try to remove anything that might distract them so that it is easier to keep to the task in hand. I find it easier to bring my youngest daughter's school clothes into our bedroom and lie them out for her. If she is in her room she will start getting out her hair bands, start dressing a toy or flicking through her favourite book. Our room is much more boring. There isn't anything to play with. I lie her clothes out and she works her way through them in order without getting distracted.
Tip 3 - Have a reward, but a reward with an end time.
Once your child is ready for school then reward them with their own choice of activity. This needs to be whatever works for you and them, but it needs to be something that naturally ends at the time you need it to.
So, for example, they might watch a television programme that ends 5 minutes before you need to leave. In our house our girls are generally ready by about 8pm and we need to leave at 8.25pm. Conveniently, Go Jetters and Octonauts are on between 8am and 8.20am (thank you CBeebies!). The girls know that, at the end of Octonauts, the TV goes off. No discussion, no debate. It works because the programme ends - I don't have to ask them to switch it off mid programme. It works because the start of the Octonauts theme tune has almost become like a bell in our house signalling 'it's time to go!'. It works because they have no idea what is on after Octonauts - they've never had the chance to find out!
Now, if I asked them to turn the TV off mid programme it would be a different matter. I would be met with reluctance and 'just two more minutes'. If your child takes part in something that doesn’t come to a natural end, such as playing a game on the iPad, then you are likely to face a battle when you need them to switch it off. Don't forget that their priorities are not your their priorities - you need them to leave but they are mid game. No matter how much you think being on time to school is important, they probably think that finishing their game is far more important. Make life easier – find something that wraps itself up nicely at the time you need it to.
Note an extra tip here - If your child does really want to partake in something open ended then use a sand timer to show your child how long they can play for. That way the end doesn’t come as a shock – they can see it is coming. You can get 20 minute sand timers. When the sand runs out it is time to go! For older children you could use the oven timer, an alarm clock or the alarm on your phone.
Tip 4 - Stay calm!
Remember your goal is for mornings to be calmer. This needs to be a whole family effort – you need to stay calm as much as they do. If your child doesn’t achieve the reward then that is already upsetting enough for them. They don’t need you making it worse by getting cross with them. If you stick to the same routine every morning then they will gradually learn that if they get ready in time they get more TV / time to play. If they don’t, they get less time.
You don’t need to add to their disappointment. It stresses you out and it stresses them out. If they don’t have time for their reward say ‘nevermind, we’ll try again tomorrow’. Encouragement is SO much more effective than reprimanding.
Tip 5 - Remove temptation!
If you have a child that likes to accessorise (like our 5 year old does) then remove any options that aren’t suitable for the morning at hand. Hide any other shoes so that the only shoes available are the ones that need to be worn that morning. Given the chance, my daughter would wear wellies in the heat of summer and glitter ballet pumps when it is pouring with rain!
I have learnt, the hard way, to take away all other options. By just leaving the school shoes out you remove the temptation for your child to choose another pair of shoes. Everything else is 'out of sight, out of mind'. The instruction is clear and straightforward for your child - ‘You need to put on your shoes. Here are your shoes’. You are removing debate, wasted time and possible upset caused whilst you talk your child out of wearing flip flops in the snow!
Tip 6 - Help them see what they need to take with them.
As you are walking out of the door, either have everything ready for them, or have a list of what they need so that they can check for themselves if they have it all. If you can, have both! Again – if they are old enough to get the things themselves and follow a checklist then you are helping build their self esteem by letting them check things for themselves.
Tip 6 - Pick your battles.
If you’ve done all this and are still finding the mornings particular hard then pick your battle. Pick one thing that you would like to change and focus on it. What can you do to change it? Once you've solved that problem you can tackle another one. If you want to chat about it then feel free to get in touch so that we can put our heads together and come up with a plan.
Once children start school they never normally get a break from school as long as the one that most children have just had. The early morning routine is likely to be a shock to your children (and you!), plus it is likely to be mixed with some big emotions - excitement, nervousness, uncertainty, and perhaps jealousy at a sibling staying home. I may have given 7 tips above but they is one that overrides everything else - stay calm. I know it's not easy, but if you are displaying stress or anxiety tomorrow morning your child is going to pick up on it. Try your best to not less the stress get to you. If you are late, you are late - schools know how difficult tomorrow morning is going to be for everyone tomorrow.
Wishing you and your child a calm and happy week,