Me and the school run have a love/hate relationship.
This morning has been pretty awful. My girl went crazy with the surgical tape in bed last night (now safely back in the first aid kit). She stuck strip after strip on her right wrist and the effect was horrifying. It took approx 17 minutes to remove it – and a lot of screaming, tears, and deep breaths all round.
You’ll understand me when I say that we didn’t really have 17 minutes to waste on surgical-tape-removal. I hadn’t factored it into the morning routine. More fool me, perhaps. Cue frantic last-minute getting-dressed, hairdressing and toothbrushing. All while trying to keep my cool.
I failed, of course.
And I lost my sh*t.
But only the once. Our nextdoor neighbour is away, so I was spared any doorstep shame this morning. Just the punch-to-the-stomach guilt of having shouted. Slightly soothed by a genuine apology from me and a forgiving hug from her. But not completely.
In the meantime, my boy is currently making it his mission to wind his sister up to the point of either hysterical tears or explosive rage. He seems happy with either response. But it means that our morning soundtrack is regularly punctuated with screams and wails. Making it very hard to listen to Keaveny on 6 and/or pack a lunch box for one carb-obsessed sandwich-o-phobe and one fruit-a-holic-but-won’t-each-much-else-atarian.
I know, I know it could be a lot worse.
And believe me, it has been.
My boy cried at every. single. drop off last year. And the year before. In fact, he used to start worrying about school at bedtime and all through the morning. That was hell for us, but even more so for him. Thankfully he now loves going to school and has grown in confidence and resilience to the point of metamorphosis.
This year it’s been my daughter’s turn to have a difficult time. From skipping sunnily into preschool she took us all by surprise by not wanting to go to big school at all. Refusing to get dressed. Hiding under her bed. Throwing things at anyone who came near her lair.
Thankfully, this has all calmed down in recent weeks (see below). And now we’re just down to the common or garden surgical-tape-on-the-wrist type morning traumas.
Don’t get me wrong. I know how lucky I am to be able to do the school run most days.
But it’s still hard.
So here are a few coping mechanisms that make the school run a little easier in our home. Some of them might work for you. Some of them might not. Maybe you’ve got some blinders that you’d like to share here? I’d be very happy to add them to the list.
1. Get super organised. Whether you’re a control freak or a winging-it kinda mama, there’s no getting around the organisation bit. I simply couldn’t survive if I had to run around looking for every single thing they/we need at the last minute every single morning.
Stress savers have been:
- Sorting out my hallway and giving kids (lots of) their own pegs to hold coats, bookbags, swimming bags etc.
- My beautiful shoe cabinet, the bottom drawer of which belongs to them and them alone.Top tip: when picking a shoe cabinet, choose one that makes a really big bang when it closes. Guaranteed they’ll enjoy putting their shoes in the right place. Every time. And opening and closing that sucker over and over again. Just to check they’ve done it right. Bang. Bang. Bang. But that’s ok, because come tomorrow morning, you KNOW they’ll be able to find their own shoes. Success! (Bang. Bang. Bang.)
2. The TV is your friend. I know some people who say they never put the TV on in the mornings (or at all), and that’s really, really impressive. But back on my planet, we let the kids watch some CBeebies or CBBC while we’re running around getting the packed lunches ready, grabbing ourselves a shower, and packing school bags. It also works as a stick/carrot – come and get dressed, do your teeth, do your hair, THEN you can watch an Art Ninja, kinda thing.
3. Feed them continuously for the first hour. My children are prone to demanding food at really, really inopportune moments. While they’re on the toilet. When they’ve literally just finished brushing their teeth. When we’re at the school gate. So I literally keep plying them with food – or at least offering it – until teeth-brushing time, after which, the hour-long breakfast-a-thon is over. Elvis would be proud.
4. Behaviour incentives (or just straight bribery). Google ‘behaviour incentives’ and you’ll get a whole world of cool-sounding, plausible reward schemes that could help you get your child to school less painfully. I’m not going to talk about any of them here because, quite frankly, marbles, stickers and sticking wheels on paper trucks didn’t do it for us. But give them a try, every kid’s different.
Due to some obvious deficiency on my part, my kids will only respond to incentives if they are in the form of cold, hard cash or nasty sweets. And yes, I do sometimes have to use one or the other (rarely both). They are part of my maternal toolkit. And I’m not afraid to use them if I have to.
But when the going is really tough with my little girl, bribery WILL NOT WORK. She once said to me: Mummy, there’s nothing you can give me or buy me that will make me get dressed for school. She’s four. I’m doomed.
5. Talk to school. If you’re finding it really difficult to get your kid(s) into school. If the struggle is beyond the surgical-tape-making-you-late kind, and is more along the lines of your child really, really not wanting to go to anywhere near the building, talk to their teacher, headteacher, SENCO, everyone.
This method can work or it can change absolutely zilch. But it’s always worth a try. The school has a duty of care to support you with getting your child to school. Particularly if the reason they don’t want to go in is something that’s going on in the playground/classroom.
Now speaking to everyone over and over didn’t solve the problems my little boy had with going to school. But together with the school we worked out some coping mechanisms that made life a bit easier for him. And now, a year on, he’s grown into a less anxious, more resilient little boy and he doesn’t need those crutches anymore.
With my daughter (and I really don’t want to jinx it here so, universe, please be kind), speaking to teachers has helped A LOT. They have done some really cool things to make life a lot nicer for her at school. I won’t go into them here because it’s not appropriate, but they are simple things like more praise and helping her with friendship struggles.
Speaking to school can be tricky. You might not agree with (or even like) some of the professionals you’re going to have to engage with. But going in there all guns blazing is the worst thing you can do – believe me, I’ve done it.
You don’t have to be a fierce lioness to protect your cubs. Sometimes the best way to do it is to act the kitten.
6. Consult the tribe. You know one of the best things about being a woman? I can talk about my problems with other women. I don’t need to bottle them up. Or come up with the answer all by myself. I can search out like-minded, similarly struggling females and we can work it out together.
Whether you do that at the school gates with other mums, or you choose to do that online, or both, getting that support will help you feel a whole lot better and provide you with tactics you hadn’t even thought of.
Facebook is home to a good number of support groups where you can find a tribe of wonderful women to support you through your school-run hell.
If the situation is really serious, you might want to check out School Refusal Support Services for Phobia, Refusal & Separation Anxiety©️ – This is a UK-based FB group with over 1,000 members giving advice and support. Sister groups exist for other countries including US and Australia. Search Facebook to find your branch. I like that they have a whole load of ‘files’ – relevant and useful information on the issues involved with school phobia. Which means you don’t have to waste hours trawling through SEO-friendly but practically useless drivel. Bonus.
So there you have it – six ways to make the school run a little easier. The list isn’t exhaustive. But it’s a start. And if you’d like me to add anything to it, please drop me an email or write me a comment.
Laters alligators x