Out the door: Re-writing the script for chaotic mornings with kids

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt is the host of Kinderling Conversation.

Summer holidays are the best, aren’t they? Endless days of swimming, ice blocks and dusk that stretches into the evening. Rules get relaxed, routines get out of whack, and the world seems to sigh and stretch.

And then, of course, one must return to reality.

Work starts back and with it, God help me, comes double drop off mornings. My husband leaves the house at a sparrow’s fart, so I need to get myself and two small children (ages three and five) out of the door on time.

Which, for a fairly simple sentence, is incredibly complex and challenging work.

Little humans have a very laissez-faire attitude to time. While bigger-sized humans see the value in eating breakfast, cleaning teeth and getting dressed, the first priority for a small child early in the morning could be building a cubby from scratch. Or dressing as a pirate. Or making a car seat for their toy, out of matchsticks. All of these things being more urgent than getting ready for the day.

While you’re making sure they have food to eat (for breakfast or lunch) they insist on interrupting every five minutes because: “Mummy I need you!” This could be because they’ve dropped a piece of cereal on the floor and are physically incapable of leaving the lounge to pick it up themselves. Or they need to tell you that an octopus has eight legs. Or their brother called them a “poo head”.

Clothes will be chosen and rejected more often than a costume change at a Katie Perry concert. Shoes and socks will go missing. And right before you leave someone will discover that they absolutely must find their favourite toy buried under a thousand of their other favourite toys.

Shevonne's kids getting ready for the day and the typical aftermath.

All of this is happening while the clock keeps on ticking, and you know that the walk to the car, and getting kids into the car, is going to take almost as long as the entire morning’s preparations combined.

Does it have to be this way?

The answer, of course, is no it doesn’t.

Genevieve Matthews co-wrote a book with her children (Lucy and Henry) called School is Coming. It’s a picture book that takes children through the morning, and comes with a pack of cards with an activity on each (getting their clothes out, brushing their teeth, packing their bag etc). The idea is that your children choose the order of their routine.

Listen to Genevieve on Kinderling Conversation:

Genevieve says this is important for a few reasons.

“Let’s fast track, let’s imagine you have a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-five-year-old. They’re in the work environment, they’re in their teenage years of school. If they don’t have a clue how to think for themselves, how to prioritise and organise their own time, they literally won’t know how to get out of bed. And you’ll have that moment where you walk into your sixteen-year-old’s room and you’ll still be yelling. Children have to learn,” she says.

I love this idea of giving kids agency, and helping them learn some life skills. I’m guilty of doing everything so we get out of the door on time. But switching on the TV to occupy them while I run around like a mad thing is not sustainable.

But I’m a bit lost on how to start.

Genevieve has the following tips if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

One: Realise that you and your kids are doing the best with your emotional and physical resources right now.

Two: Choose three things that you’d like to change and focus on them (is it yelling at the kids? Is it getting them to dress themselves, or make their own breakfast?)

Three: Be curious and present, work out what your kids are capable of doing (that you haven’t let them try).

Four: Don’t multitask. If you’re trying to get out the door at the same time as cleaning bedrooms and putting on the washing you’re making it too hard for yourself.

This morning I tried Genevieve’s cards, and they were the circuit breaker I needed.

My daughter’s bedroom door is now plastered with a plethora of activities, and while she definitely did not follow her own run-list to a tee, she did more for herself than she’s ever done before.

I was surprised that it worked as well as it did. Which is not to say that I expect it to work every morning.

But it’s a start at rewriting the script on chaotic mornings, and that’s exciting.