‘Avoiding a morning meltdown’
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The start of a new term can be more stressful for parents than for kids. Our tips will help you soften the return to normality
t’s probably the end of week one of the back-to-school/work routine, and it feels like 10 years since you were shaking Spanish sand out of your sandals, not 10 days. You’re all struggling to get up in the mornings, tempers are frayed (mainly yours, what with the familiar chorus of, ‘Mum, WHERE ARE MY SHOES?’) and you’d like to ignore that unloaded dishwasher and go back to bed. Sound familiar? Don’t worry – we’ve got some simple solutions to help sort the most stressy scenarios.
The warm glow of smugness you basked in seven weeks ago has turned into tears and tantrums (mainly from you) as you try to shoehorn your kids into clothes that are already too small. ‘When buying uniforms, it’s best not to peak too early,’ says children’s fashion stylist and blogger Becky John. ‘Bear in mind that kids can go up a couple of sizes over the summer. But neither do you want to be frantically shopping in September, when lots of items may be out of stock. August is an ideal time to hit the shops, while everyone’s away on their summer holidays.’
You’ve made four different meals this morning… but nothing for yourself. And now there’s an ominous rumbling in your tum as you sit at the fifth set of red traffic lights. Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington recommends keeping some ‘go-to’ food options with you. ‘A healthy breakfast can help top up vital nutrients to set you up for the day,’ she says. ‘But if you often find you’re low on time, make sure you’ve always got portable snacks to hand, such as dried fruit and nuts – something you can keep and forget about until you need it.’ Time to stock up.
Five requests for them to put their shoes on, four calls to get in the car and seven appeals for them to stop arguing. You’ve repeated yourself so much that you’re starting to lose your voice. ‘Accept the fact that they don’t share your priorities,’ advises psychologist Emma Kenny†. ‘When you ask them to do something, try following three steps. First, get them to engage with you: make sure they stop and look you in the eye. Second, compromise: give them a few minutes’ countdown. Third, offer an alternative: if, for instance, they don’t want to turn off the TV, say you can play a game on the way to school instead.’
Yep – they’ve waited until you’re about to drop them off to reveal the fact that they don’t have their PE kit/family tree for show-and-tell. Again. The solution? It might sound obvious, but even World Memory Championship silver medallist Michael Tipper†† says that checklists are a must. ‘Ahead of time, write down everything you need to achieve that day, and cross off each item as it gets done,’ he suggests. ‘Another way to help you remember things is to establish a good morning routine. Regular patterns become hard-wired into a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which means that they can then happen automatically, without conscious thought. So it could be that while they brush their teeth, you pack the car with gym kits, lunch boxes and so on. Whatever works for you.’
Sure, mornings might be chaos, but try not to wish them away too quickly. ‘Every day, remind yourself that there will be a “last time” for everything,’ suggests Emma. ‘A last time they’ll ask you to do their laces, a last time they’ll want to hold your hand, a last time they’ll not be embarrassed to kiss you at the gate… Try to find something to cherish every week.’ Parenting expert and author Tanith Carey agrees: ‘Childhoods are short. From birth to the age of 12, we only have about 4,380 days with our kids. Yet sometimes we’re so busy focusing on the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey.’
You find yourself lying awake thinking about emails you need to reply to, that load of washing you forgot to put on, and whether you’ve got enough cheese triangles for the lunch boxes tomorrow. ‘A flurry of random worries at night is a sign that you’re struggling to compartmentalise during the day,’ explains Emma. ‘But learning how to do this can reduce your worry levels and, by extension, help you sleep – because you’ll have trained your brain not to let in too many thoughts at once. So, stop multi-tasking during the day. If, for example, you’re cooking dinner, try to focus entirely on that – phones away, no emails. Practise being strict with what’s going on in your head: only allow in anything that relates to what you’re doing there and then. It’ll take work, but it’s worth it.’
So far, you’ve promised a new iPad and a visit to Peppa Pig World just to get the kids breakfasted, dressed and on their way. ‘What children want most of all is your special, concentrated time – not necessarily treats,’ says Tanith. ‘It sounds corny, but they really do associate love with time spent with you. So stop dangling big bribes and concentrate on things you can do together that aren’t such a huge logistical – or expensive – commitment, such as playing a game or taking a trip to the park.’ See – money really doesn’t buy love.
‘Around the last week of the holidays, I’ll get myself and my son, Michael, 4, used to being ready and out of the house at the time we’d need to for school, so it won’t come as such a shock to us. Even if that means leaving home at 8.30am to go to the park or a café, we’re up and dressed, with teeth brushed and a bag packed.’
Michelle Bourke, 40, a nurse from the West Midlands
‘During the last few weeks of the break, I’ll start talking about school with my sons, Beau, 8, and Lochlan, 6 – whether it’s which friends they’re looking forward to seeing, or their new teacher. It gets them back into the idea of a new term. Plus, during a day at the park in the holidays, they’re confident and comfortable enough to talk through any concerns they might have before the first morning back, when we’ll be in rush.’
Charmaine MacFarlane, 34, a beauty therapist from Angus
‘I’ve put some hooks at child height in our hallway for Molly, 2, and Sam, 5, and a bucket/trug under each one. Every night we hang their coats, scarves and hats on their pegs, and put their bags and shoes in the buckets. That way, there’s no scrabbling about for things in the morning. It saves lots of time.’
Jenny Wood, 40, stay-at-home mum from London
School time buddies
A New NPW Giant Avacado eraser & sharpener*, £9/900 points, will cheer up any Monday blues.In store and online from 18 September
Your tween will love the New Jack Wills Gym Kit Boots Exclusive £30/3,000 points (with Hope Cove Body Wash. 200ml, Hope Cove Body Spray, 125 ml; Plastic Gym Bottle; Earphones; and Gym Bag).In store and online from 18 September
They won't forget their lunch if it's in a New Happy Jackson Zip Lunch Bag, £8.50/850 pointsIn store and online from 18 September
New Wild & Wolf Uber Donuts Flamingo & Cactus Notepad, £7/700 points, will help keep your memory on track.In store and online from 18 September
Slip this into their bag to make H2O cool: New Pusheen Water Bottle £10/1,000 points (600ml capacity).Currently Unavailable
*Available in selected stores and online from 18 September.
†Emma is also CEO of makeyourswitch.co.uk ††For more info on improving your memory, go to michaeltipper.com
Words Clare O’Reilly Photography Getty Images, Pixeleyes