Kids got the School Day Blues? If you want them to get up and get out the door without stress and struggles, try these five playful ways to keep them smiling all the way to class.
1. Start with Special Time
Even getting up five minutes early to ensure that you have one-on-one time with your child helps restore their connection to you. Those warm and fuzzies they feel when you spend the time snuggling, playing with their stuffies or letting them pick a quick activity that they direct sets them up for the day ahead. They'll be more co-operative and easier to please as the morning unfolds.
Here's How It Works:
“We started getting up thirty minutes early so we could play, and I mean, really play! My husband and I would trade off playing with each girl so each of them got a chance with each parent. We just did twenty minutes right after breakfast, before we asked them to do that infinite list of chores before they went to school. It worked! They actually brushed their teeth without my threats! They even made their beds without me helping. It was amazing. Just those few minutes with them “filled up their cup” with love and attention.”
2. Get Playful
If they sulk at the table or won't get dressed try bringing out some funnies. Maybe you make the milk in the cereal “talk” and in a funny voice and plead to be eaten. Or when you tell your son that you are going to put on his pants, put them on his head not his legs, or put them on your head! The giggles and smiles that playfulness brings on allows your child to shed whatever tension he has about leaving the house for school. As those feelings dissolve, so will his stalling. We call this tool Playlistening.
3. Listen Out for Feelings
Sometimes play isn't enough to let them offload. Who knows what's driving their reluctance to get out the door, but if they offer a clue try giving it your full empathy. There's no need to offer solutions. If she complains she doesn't like school, or hates math, you can simply nod and say lovingly, “I know, sweetie.” Sometimes this understanding may be all she needs to get up and get moving, sometimes she'll signal for more of your attention. She'll say grumpily, “I don't want this bowl,” although it's her favorite and the one she always requests, or she'll suddenly tantrum when you ask her to pull on her socks or brush her teeth. These small moments show she has stress or fear she needs to work through. Let the tears fall. Your goal will be to surround your child with warm attention and support while she feels upset.
Here's How It Works:
“When my son was four, he went through a period of great resistance to getting dressed. Over a few weeks I tried all sorts of play to loosen the tension. I'd make his clothes talk to him and hide from him, try to put them on myself, pretend to not know how to help him get dressed, and more.
Despite my efforts, getting dressed remained a daily struggle. Finally, one day I told him it was time to put his clothes on. When he tried to run away I pulled him onto my lap and said again, “It’s time to get dressed now.” He started to cry and thrash. I kept him with me, holding his arms so he couldn't hit or scratch, and listened. When he started to let up I'd tell him that it was time to put his clothes on, and then listen while he cried some more.
After what felt like a very long time he stopped struggling, sat up in my lap, looked right at me and asked if I would still recognize him when he grows up. I reassured him that I'd always know him and always love him, even if he looked different. It was like a switch had been flipped. After offloading that fear, getting dressed was no longer an issue.”
4. Re-connect after school
Get a blank look when you ask how their day was? In school your child follows rules, has to be social, and will often hold her feelings in check. She may need time to re-adjust when she returns to her safe place – home – and she might not be able to articulate how she feels about her time away. Offering Special Time, or joining her in her play will give you insights into her day. Sometimes kids will direct you to roleplay issues that are bothering them, other times their chatter or tears will guide you. You won't have to give advice or even speak much, just follow their lead and offer your support – they will do the rest.
5. Check your Own Feelings
Whether you feel guilt over rushing them out or anxious about them growing up and being away all day, parents often have their own big feelings at the start of school. Make sure that you have someone to listen to your own fears, confusions and concerns so that they aren't bogging you down. Listening and playing with your child in the mornings doesn't come easy when you feel blue, which is why Hand in Hand recommends parents regularly schedule sounding off time with someone else.
Here's How It Works:
“My daughter was starting nursery school, and although I trusted that she could totally handle it, I had various concerns. It wasn't my first choice of situation; I would rather have kept her at home. It felt unfair, as her older brother hadn't had to go, and I was scared she might lose some of her wild-
ness and exuberance and become obedient!
I took this to my Listening Partnerships. The first time, I expressed my concerns and my listening partner said, with a twinkle, “It's not as if you are sending her to boarding school!” I laughed! She had helped me to remember that I’d carefully selected a safe, cozy environment.
In another session with a different listening partner, I cried about feel-
ing that she was too little, and that I didn't want to send my baby away. My listening partner asked me what was the worst thing that could happen, allowing me to release some fears.”
Spend a few days trying the tools mentioned in this post, and see how your morning routine brightens.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
- Learn how to set up Special Time with this Special Time checklist
- Get more connected after school with the awesome suggestions in Affection Play—A Powerful Antidote to the After-School Blahs
- Sign up to our monthly newsletter for more loving and playful tips
- Buy the book: Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges