BACK TO SCHOOL
children may be puzzled. Does “dressed” mean
socks and shoes, too? Does she have to use toothpaste? Some kids will do nothing rather than get it
wrong. Or they will dawdle, hoping for help.
“Mornings will be less stressful if you do everything you can the night before,” says Dr. Carol
Burniston, a clinical child psychologist who was formerly the UK National Health Service’s clinical lead
for children’s mental health. Burniston suggests that
you ask what equipment or bags are needed for the
next day and have them by the door. Check on clean
clothes. Is there milk for breakfast? Sounds simple,
but it’s easy to forget the obvious.
If a child tends to be difficult most mornings,
Burniston advises looking at the bigger picture. Why
is she grumpy? In addition to not understanding
what’s expected of her, common reasons may include:
• Not getting enough sleep.
• Not being happy at school.
• Being pushed to perform morning tasks
• Being asked to do things she can’t
yet do alone.
“Also, some children wake up with really low
blood sugar and need to eat pretty quickly,”
If your normally cheerful child is dragging his
feet, ask if something upsetting is happening that
day. Sorting out every problem isn’t helpful, but do
listen and offer an adult perspective when you sense
something is amiss. Often a child is anxious about
one tiny thing, Burniston says. It could be as random as that there are peas in the cafeteria on
Wednesdays and your child hates peas.
And don’t forget your sense of humor, Burniston
adds. Seeing the funny side eases everything. Stay as
calm as you can. If mom or dad starts yelling, everyone gets upset. And if breakfast some days is chocolate milk and a cereal bar eaten in the car, wave
goodbye with a smile and no guilt whatsoever. Like
most parents, you’re doing the best you can. C
Salley Shannon is a writer based in Washington, D.C.
BY SALLEY SHANNON
NEW SCHOOL YEARS often begin with rainbow-colored intentions, clothes set out the night before
and the question of packed or school-supplied lunch
negotiated with each child. The first few mornings
go splendidly. On about the fourth morning, tempers fray as one child must be nagged out of bed.
Then you’re rushing to the car and your youngest
announces his left shoe is missing.
Dr. Claire B. Kopp, a specialist in child development and the author of Baby Steps (Holt Paperbacks,
2003, not available at Costco), says school day
mornings are stressful for a reason: ‘there’s a whole
lot of activity going on and a child might not even be
fully awake yet.” Or, children may be awake “but not
thinking about the same things parents are,” namely,
getting everybody up, dressed, fed, and out the door,
backpacks in hand. All while racing the clock.
Setting the stage
For smoother mornings “think about what the
parent in charge is like, and what the child is like,”
Kopp says. “There is no ‘one size fits all” set of directions. Some adults and some children are comfortable
with a certain amount of rushing. Others get upset.
Some children like checking off tasks on a chart.
Not all do. An older child might respond with enthusiasm if offered a reward, like a small amount of
money for after school treats. Or, perhaps, a toy after
there are a certain number of stars on the calendar.
Another child might shrug. Being flexible enough to
adapt your routine until you come up with a plan
that suits everyone is not “spoiling,” Dr. Kopp says.
It’s being practical, not to mention less stressed.
If you often find yourself saying “Why aren’t
you dressed? I’ve told you a million times we have to
leave by 7: 50! “that’s a pretty good signal you’re asking too much of a child, too soon, Kopp says. Age
and skill level aren’t the only factors. Maybe your
child isn’t ready to give up having your attention
while he dresses.
Also, check to make sure children are totally
clear on what’s expected. Saying “get up on your
own when you hear the alarm. Dress, brush your
teeth and be in the kitchen eating breakfast by 7: 30”
is clear enough for a teen or an almost-teen. Younger
© AIN MIKAIL / SHUT TERS TOCK
TAKING THE STRESS
OUT OF GETTING
KIDS TO SCHOOL
be less stressful if you do
you can the
—Dr. Carol Burniston