When I signed up for this whole being a parent job, nobody warned me about school mornings. I can see why. It might have put me off the whole thing. Even after many years of trying to perfect the art of the calm, stress-free morning, I often still drop the final child off with a relieved sigh, feeling as though I have done a day’s work already and it isn’t even nine am. If there had been a school morning survival tips manual, I would have bought it.
Each phase of parenting brings its own set of challenges when it comes to school mornings; from the years of being up at a ridiculously early time to have to come up with new tricks to remove the teenager from his much-loved duvet. It is exhausting. It is filled with pitfalls and challenges. It involves juggling children, toothbrushes, shoes, bags, breakfast and more but there are tips and tricks that I have learnt along the way that can help to make things run a little smoother and leave you feeling a little less frazzled.
Encourage a good night’s sleep
As children get older, it can be increasingly difficult to get them to bed at a reasonable hour. They are never tired. They want to push the boundaries, stay up later, stay connected to their devices. It is ironic then that teenagers actually need more sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need 8 – 10 hours sleep per night, yet only a small percentage actually get that.
Set a good example by switching off devices and having an early night yourself. I find this one quite easy lately and could often go to bed well before my eldest son is ready to go. Talk to them about the importance of sleep, tell them to research it and find out for themselves.
Hopefully, regular good sleep patterns will lead to better and brighter mornings.
Getting organised the night before
I’m sure you have heard that one before but it really is the key to stress-free mornings. I always start the week with good intentions. Sunday night sees three sets of uniform laid out ready to go with socks and pants. Bags are packed. Forms are filled in. Even the crockery and cutlery are on the table ready for breakfast. It makes such a huge difference. I can use the extra time to get the children up and help them get ready and those mornings are so much easier.
By Wednesday I am tired and it is a different story altogether. Nothing is ready and I am running around like the proverbial headless chicken trying to find everything. Iron in one hand, milk in the other, I am trying to fill in forms, make breakfast, iron uniform and find a matching pair of socks. It isn’t pretty. Inevitably, we are late leaving which adds to the stress levels and I have to leave the kitchen looking like a small bomb has gone off.
A few minutes the night before, preparing and sorting can really make the difference and I should take my own advice here and do it every night.
Create a timetable
One of my best ever investments was a magnetic whiteboard with a grid showing the days of the week. It sits on the kitchen wall and is a place to keep note of everything that needs an extra bag or piece of equipment. On there, I write sporting commitments, clubs, when each child has PE or cookery, music lessons or swimming. They are all there and regularly updated so that each morning I know exactly what the children need for that day and also where I need to be after school. The children like it too in a funny sort of way as they know they can check it in the morning before breakfast and they know what they are doing each day.
Check the bottom of the school bag
This is another job for the night before if you remember. Check their bags for any unread letters or permission slips that might be folded or screwed up at the bottom of the bag. The last thing you need just as you are jumping in the car is a letter being thrust at you needing a response that day. You can add personal secretary to your list of talents as a parent, it is an essential part of the job.
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Keep an eye on homework
Another big no-no is hearing the words, “I haven’t done my homework and it is due in today!” That one strikes fear to my very core as I have one child in particular who gets rather stressed about homework. Encourage them to do homework when they arrive home from school and check homework diaries for homework due that week. Add it to the timetable if that helps. If your school uses an online system such as Show My Homework, set up an app on your phone, it takes minutes to do and it enables you to be able to quickly login and see what is outstanding. That should avoid the horror of watching your child trying to do their English homework in the car on the way to school.
Give yourself some time
My calmest mornings are the days when I get up a little bit earlier and allow a little bit of ‘me-time’ before the insanity of the day begins. Twenty minutes to half an hour is all that it takes. By getting up early, making myself a nice cup of Gourmesso coffee, I can sit without distraction and either read, crochet or even catch up on a few emails. It also helps if I am dressed and ready before I get the children up as it is one less person vying for the bathroom.
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Switch off the devices
When my sons started middle school, our early start became even earlier and I quickly discovered that if I was to have any chance of getting everyone to school on time, there needed to be fewer distractions. We had developed the bad habit of watching TV in the mornings and that was the first thing to stop as they would all sit there mindlessly glued to the screen rather than getting dressed. That was over two years ago now and those early mornings sat watching CBeebies seem like a lifetime ago now. Now they are getting older, it is the smaller screens that are the problem and so the rule now is that there are no screens until they are ready to go. It is the only way to stop them being sucked into the virtual world and making us all late and stressed.
Have a routine
As much as I have tried to fight it over the years, there is no doubt that children respond well to routine. It gives them boundaries and structure and this can help you out in the mornings. In addition to the lack of electronic devices in the morning, we have a routine. The children wake up at the same time every morning and I have put in set times for them to get dressed, to eat breakfast and be out of the door. It does sometimes feel a little bit like groundhog day, but it does work and most mornings we do manage to get out of the door on time.
Encourage older children to be independent
This is one that I am working on and even though the control freak in me finds it a little tricky, I know that it is important to allow them to take responsibility for themselves in the mornings. Buy them an alarm clock, encourage them to get their own clothes out ready for the next day. I am doing this with my 13-year-old son now as he moves to high school next year and I won’t be here in the morning to get him organised. It is also nice to have one less person to nag in the mornings which is good for me.