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How to Get to School on Time

You’re Very Late for School!

Last week, I was talking to a friend who’s a doctor and mother of 3 about her mornings.  “It’s awful,” she told me, “I’ll have everyone all set and ready to go and then I’ll go to get my pager and when I get back to the kitchen, Beth (her 4-year-old) will be naked.”

My own son has never stripped down below his skivvies, but we’ve had many, many mornings (including this one) when he’s late for school. A mom in South Carolina recently wrote to the Motherlode blog about her problems getting her 5-year-old son to school on time.  This must have touched a nerve because a lot of people have a lot of advice about how to get ready for school and get out the door on time. I’ve distilled it and added my own and whittled it down to 5 steps.

1) It’s about separation: For kids, going to school is all about separation.  I’m not making this up. I learned it from a talk I went to by Tovah Klein, developmental psychologist, director of the Barnard Toddler Center, and mother of three boys.  Acknowledging the emotional component of leaving home gives you a reasonable starting point for thinking about your mornings.  Even if a child loves school, it can still be hard to leave home and mom or dad or babysitter.  To ease the separation in our house, we often suggest our son bring a small toy or book with him to school. He may have to keep it in his backpack all day, but he still has something special with him from home.

2) Routine, Routine, Routine: A predictable morning routine is key.  Most kindergarten classrooms have a schedule with pictures and words that kids can check throughout the day.  Make a chart like that for your home and hang it where your child can see it.  Put every step of getting up and out on the chart –for example, wake up; brush teeth; have breakfast; play time; get dressed; go to school. You might still be late to school sometimes, but your kids will feel empowered when they know what they have to do next to get themselves ready for school.

3) Organization: Several parents on the Motherlode blog recommended making sure all the elements of the morning are in place the night before. Lunch box should be handy, shoes can be set out by the door next to a backpack, which is already packed.  With everything all set and ready to go, there’s no chance for last minute run-backs for forgotten items.  I’d add that a parent can do this for phone and keys, too.

4) Sticker Charts/Reward: Many parents on the Motherlode blog recommend setting up a sticker chart with reasonable rewards built in. If the kids manage to get dressed, brush teeth, etc., according to schedule, they get a star.  If they don’t, they lose a star.  You can build an incentive into the star chart.  Personally, star charts have never worked for either one of our kids, but I know other families for whom they’ve been magic.  If you’re looking for a good guide to star charts, I’d recommend The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child.  His general approach to parenting supportive, reasonable and wise. (Which is to say even though sticker charts didn’t work for us, I found the book useful.)

5) Get a Good Night’s Sleep: Just like the morning routine, a bedtime routine needs to be predictable and consistent.  One parent noted that weekend bedtime should be the same as week day.  No matter the routine, a child needs to get to bed early enough to be well rested the next day.  If a child wakes up tired, a parent should check with the family’s doctor about what might be causing the sleepiness. (In addition, a caregiver can check on a child about an hour or so after he’s asleep to see if the child is snoring or breathing very loudly.  If he is, the child’s sleep may be disrupted because of enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which a parent should report to a physician.)  Several parents suggested setting an earlier bedtime as a consequence for being late to school, but sleep should never be a punishment, just a fact.

How do you get out the door on time? Do you think kid should be punished for running late or rewarded for being on schedule?

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