How to Get The Kids Out the Door On Time and Still Feel Connected

Photography: Katherine Heise |

By Rachel Schofield

How hard we all work to get our kids out the door on time! I think just about every parent I’ve listened to has struggled, at one time or another, with getting their children to school or daycare. There seems to be so much to do: get up, get dressed, make breakfast, eat breakfast, brush teeth, make packed lunches, pack bags, etc.

I’m continually amazed at the ideas and strategies parents put into this part of the day. But no matter how organised we are, children still have feelings. They have lots and lots of feelings about school or daycare (even if they love it) and they have plenty of feelings about having to get out the door on time. So it makes sense that our morning routine pays as much attention to their emotions as it does to their physical needs and logistics.

A good starting point is to notice that when children are feeling close and connected they are delightful to be with. They are cooperative, helpful and obliging. On those mornings we might even be ready before we need to be. But when children lack this sense of connection, or when they harbour upsets, they lose their ability think well and find it hard to get ready on time. There’s a scientific name for this: “inhibited cortical functioning”. It means we can’t use our rational brains anymore. Our emotional brain is running the show and when that happens, blood flow to the thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) is restricted. Kids don’t want to be awkward and stubborn, but with feelings popping up, it’s hard for them to think clearly and do the morning routine.

Here are some tried and tested strategies to help children feel connected and release any emotional tension that’s in the way.

The Morning Snuggle

This is such a nurturing way to begin the day. Snuggling together in bed eases away tension. It’s a beautiful chance to soak up each others’ warmth and reconnect after a night of sleep. If your kids don’t get into your bed anymore, get into theirs. If they complain, turn it into a game, “Oh but I’ve got 100 hugs and kisses all for you” and let them scream and laugh, and run away as you chase them with your cuddles, occasionally managing to plant a raspberry on their bellies. Science Journalist, Susan Kuchinaskas explains how every time we cuddle, we release the chemical oxytocin. This brain chemical makes us bond and
trust, it builds our deep lasting connections. It’s what we think of as love.

Special Time

Here’s a way of giving your child a big dose of connection vitamins. Before getting dressed, give each child three or more minutes of your undivided attention. Put on a timer and say, “Okay we’ve got five minutes to do whatever you want” and shine warm attention on them as you follow their lead in play. Here’s how Special Time helped one Mum from a Building Emotional Understanding course:

“When my son started preschool, getting used to the new routine was hard for us all. We were all used to our pretty laid-back mornings where my son would sleep until he woke up on his own. When he did wake up, we would hang out in pyjamas and play for a while and not worry about breakfast until he said he was hungry or get dressed until we were ready to go out.

Of course preschool changed all this! Now I was giving orders all morning. “Time to get up,” Eat your breakfast,” “We need to get dressed,” and worst of all, “We don’t have time to play, we have to go!” All this happened even though I’m actually pretty relaxed about having to be at school “on time.” As I said to a friend, there are no tardy bells in preschool!

My son didn’t like this scenario at all either. He became frustrated easily and I listened to many tantrums around trivial issues like the shoes he wanted to wear, or whether I put milk on his cereal (or not!). I understood that it was good to listen to his feelings, and was OK about doing that (most of the time). But I was still feeling like a drill sergeant, and I could tell that my son was left feeling like he never got to do what he wanted to do in the mornings. It was a lousy way to start the day for us all!

It occurred to me that we might try Special Time in the mornings. I made a chart with pictures of all the things we have to do in the morning, including Special Time. As I was making the chart, I thought about where to put Special Time in our morning routine. The temptation was to put it after all the “business” had been taken care of, but I realized that in order to build a good current connection with my son, it would be best if Special Time was first thing we did.

The changes have been tremendous. Where before just getting out of bed was sometimes a struggle, now when he wakes up (even if he has to be gently woken) he hops up and says, “Let’s do Special Time!” Our struggles over getting dressed and ready to go are significantly diminished. Now when I need to get him moving, I can just ask him to look at the list and tell me what we need to do next. Now I don’t have to be the nag. I get to be the assistant who helps him get dressed, brush teeth, etc. when he tells me it’s time. We still have days when getting out the door is a struggle, but things are much smoother. Taking just 5 minutes to make sure that things go his way first thing in the morning starts us out on a note of connection and cooperation.”

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