While the sun continues to shine (at least when I wrote this in early October!), and the afternoons are warm, there is a definite feeling in the air of the change of seasons. Cooler nights, falling leaves, the sun hanging lower in the sky—all of these announce Fall. I have always enjoyed the season of Fall, welcoming cozy evenings with candles and a fire and a pot of soup cooking on the stove. But when my children were young, I can recall this time of year being an incredibly stressful time. The transition back to school or other daily routines, early mornings, and long full days of activities was hard to adjust to after the slowness of summer. There was a sense of there never being enough time to do the things we wanted, in the relaxed way that we wanted.
In my practice, I often hear parents talking about their struggle with having enough time to do everything they feel they need to, or their struggle to be on time to school, work and other activities. Mornings become a time of anxiety and mounting frustration as the clock ticks off the minutes and your toddler runs defiantly away from you, kicking off the shoes you finally got on. Or your preschooler has decided to see how many bites she can get out of one waffle which means eating very, very slowly. Or perhaps your kindergartner decides that you are the meanest parent in the world and they have a meltdown about brushing teeth.
For some perspective, remember that humans survived for thousands of years without knowing the “time” beyond when it got dark and light. Our current adherence to minutes (seconds!!) is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is one that is not a good match for the clock that young children run on. Children’s sense of time is fluid, in the moment and without awareness of the consequences of their actions. They can be amazing models of the concept of mindfulness as they embrace the present.
While we do want to support our kids as they learn about time, sometimes it is helpful to shift our expectations and be with them in their perception of time. Try an experiment with a “time-free” day or block of time. Imagine not having the pressure of needing to be somewhere at a certain time. Activities can simply last as long as they do. Getting dressed is optional, and empty stomachs decide when it’s time to eat. A “time-free” experience means that no one uses the clock to determine what happens next. Cell phones are off, clocks face the wall, digital read-outs are taped over. Or perhaps you are out and about and consciously ignore any indicators of time, letting interest decide what happens next. This experience can be quite challenging for adults who have learned to construct their lives according to time. Try it and see what you notice!
While time-free days can be wonderful, we do live in a society where there are expectations about things happening at a certain time. So what can you do when you are finding yourself getting frazzled by time pressure? Read on for some ideas!
When you are moving through the morning routine and glance at the clock to see you are now running late, first take a deep breath. Try to reduce the stress in your body which dictates that you have to do something about this such as yell at your child to hurry up, or snap at your toddler when they insist on doing something themselves. As a mom said in a group recently about being late to school—“I mean really, I just need to remember, this is PRESCHOOL. In the big scheme of things, being late to preschool is not something to get stressed out about.” Not to say that there aren’t times when being late does have big consequences (e.g. big work presentation) but hopefully those times are few and far between.
If running late happens repeatedly, then this is information you can use to explore making changes in your morning routine. Perhaps try laying clothes out the night before…in your bedroom so when your child gets dressed they don’t see potentially distracting play items. Or change your clocks forward so you have 15 minutes extra time in the morning. Or tell yourself a different start time (school really starts at 8:45 instead of 9:00!) and work towards that time. This gives you a little leeway to handle unexpected drama in the morning.
Often the investment of a little time to understand just why it is so important that your child find matching purple socks can actually get you out the door sooner (who knew that they had made an agreement with a friend that they would BOTH have purple socks on and surprise their teacher). Try saying something like: “Help me understand why this is important.” Or, “I can see this is really important to you. What can I do to help?” Or even, “Hmmm. You feel very strongly that you need more time to finish your project but I’m noticing that school starts in 15 minutes…and it takes us 15 minutes to get to school. What should we do?”
Watch out for emotionally-driven directives. Become aware that when we have strong emotions, such as anger or frustration, there is often an accompanying sense of urgency. Something has to be done! Now! If you can work at reducing your tension level you may notice that the sense of urgency will go away. Your child will not turn into an axe murderer if you don’t immediately “do something” about the fact that they just pushed their little brother on the way to the car. You are more apt to find a good response if you take a moment to get yourself dialed down before responding to your child.
Invite your child to participate in a conversation about time/being late. Maybe you will arrive somewhere and notice that yours is the last car to pull up. You can have a conversation about this and what it means with your child/ren. “Wow! The parking lot is pretty empty. Looks like all your friends are here.” (pause, refrain from desire to lecture child with comments about how if they had only…..then you wouldn’t be late). Perhaps ask, with curiosity,(for kids who are verbal) “what works for you about being late? What is hard for you?” Try to listen to your child’s response. Perhaps being late does work for them because they don’t like how busy and stimulating it feels with everyone else around when you are on time. Or maybe they enjoy making a grand entrance and having the attention of the class focus on them (or perhaps this is the part that is hard?). Take a moment to connect with your child and invite them into the conversation. Then you can always offer a hug–it only take a few seconds but leave lasting impressions.
Most of all, take a deep breath and remember what is truly important to you. Will rushing, and being late truly have the consequences you think? Yes, others may notice you are late to school. Yes, your child may be the last one there. And the only one in pajamas. Without shoes. But again, this is preschool. Or daycare. Or elementary school. Perhaps the message you are sending is that you value your relationship with your child more than what others may think of you. And your child is getting the message that your relationship with them is important, and you will respect what is important to them. A pretty good recipe for raising respectful kids!