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How to stay stress free on the school run

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Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

Fiona with Noah and Abigail

Fiona with Noah and Abigail

Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

Us parents are a busy lot. But despite all the balls we have to juggle throughout the day, nothing beats the stress of the school run.

A new report from Kia Motors has revealed that getting children washed, fed, dressed, into the car and deposited at school on time is often a hellish experience.

And while the home run is generally easier, coping with road rage, erratically double-parked cars followed by tired and cranky children can be enough to set stress levels soaring for the second time in a day.

We spoke to two mothers to find out how efficient their school routine is and whether they have managed to find the answer. And if not, we also speak to some experts who have a few nuggets of advice on how to get through the tense daily routine.

Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

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Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

Tracy Hussey lives in Ashbourne, Co Meath with her husband Paul and children Ella (12), Ruby (11) and Alfie (5).

She is the co-owner of www.littleladiespamperparties.ie (which specialises in planning parties for little girls) and says the combination of getting herself organised for work and getting her children ready and at their respective schools on time can be very stressful.

"My alarm goes at 6.50am - I usually get up at 7am and start by making all the lunches. Ruby is always up first - she is very organised and has her porridge by 7.15. Ella just started secondary school this year which was initially quite stressful with making sure she was up on-time and had all books ready for the day. But she has definitely turned a corner now - even though she's not a morning person at all and is usually only up by 7.20 after being called several times.

Alfie is the smallest and very tired these days as he just started 'big school' so is the hardest to get up - once he is awake though, he's a happy little man.

I feel most stressed at 8am as we need to leave by 8.10 and I start having problems with getting them to finish breakfast - we have had many mornings when Alfie has his breakfast in the car. There is also a panic making sure they have all their books and gear bags as several times we have had to turn back for something they have forgotten.

There is also the last minute dash to wash face and teeth or brush hair - not to mention checking that all the lunches are in the bags.

Our journey to school takes 10-15 minutes on a direct road so traffic is not really a problem unless it is raining and more people are driving. Ella starts school at 8.30 and the other two start at 9. The two schools are close together but there isn't enough time to go home and back out so I usually sit in the primary school car-park for the half hour and spend time going over homework and spellings, finishing hair or sometimes even putting on Alfie's shoes.

At 9am they are all in school then and I breathe a sigh of relief before heading off to work in Dublin.

At home time I have three collection times; 1.40pm, 2.40pm and 3.25pm - so it's car time all over again. On collection the kids are usually tired and sometimes they bicker with each other. I have been known to say 'PLEASE DON T TALK TO EACH OTHER' on a regular basis.

But all this rushing around and caring for them keeps us all going and kept busy."

Fiona Montague lives in Kildare with her children Abigail (4) and Noah (1).

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Fiona with Noah and Abigail

Fiona with Noah and Abigail

Fiona with Noah and Abigail

She works as a nutritionist from home so doesn't have any worries about getting to the office on time. And while she says her daily routine may sound relaxed, the reality is far from it.

"My story is going to sound so chilled out compared to others - which isn't really the case. I get up just after 7am and get ready before the kids wake up. My daughter usually wakes first, so I get her dressed (as she moans about how tired she is) and as soon as I hear Noah wake, I run down and put the porridge on a low heat, go back up stairs and get him dressed - and help Abigail as she usually does everything in very slow stages.

We're downstairs by 8-8.15, have breakfast and are usually out the door by 8.50 or 8.55. I'm home by 9.10 and generally have my first client by 9.30. I could have clients all morning, and then it's back to collect the kids at 1pm. Most days, they are fed in school, but still have a light lunch when they come home.

Noah goes for an afternoon nap when he gets back and this is when I catch up with housework, emails and calls. It is also colour, playdoh or painting time with my daughter, so afternoons are hectic.

The most stressful part of the morning is trying to dress and feed two small children and get out in time. Abigail sees me doing everything for Noah so she wants me to do everything for her as well. So usually I have three people to dress and feed because while I eat breakfast, I feed Noah and sometimes Abigail as well.

The journey to the crèche is just five minutes away so there is no stress really in getting there, I don't see any road rage.

I keep my stress to a minimum by having enough clothes washed and ironed for the week.

I also bulk-cook dinners every couple of weeks and freeze them, so on days I'm particularly busy, I know I have a nutritious meal ready to go. I leave the kitchen tidy every evening and have the table set, porridge out ready to go - and that's how I minimise the morning panic."

Fiona's situation is more relaxed than most and child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell says the school run is rife with pressure of being on time and can be very difficult for those who are juggling different schools and start times.

"The morning transition can be difficult for families when children attend different schools, when parents have a long commute or if one or more members of a family are regularly late or disorganised," he says. "Upsets and annoyances, like sibling arguments, traffic, or forgetting things, seem worse because we are on the clock.

"Being tired doesn't help in the case of late nights or poor sleepers and having to be on time for work and school are additional stresses that cause nerves to fray more easily in the morning. The school run back home can be stressful too but probably doesn't match the morning-run for sheer stress."

Despite it being the most stressful time of a parent's day, the Wexford-based psychologist says we should try not to make it too apparent.

"Most children are incredibly intuitive - they can sense when parents are stressed and often respond with anxious behaviour such as forgetfulness, whining and attention seeking or withdrawing from family life," he says. "Parents would be wise to recognise their own stress and to take steps to reduce it by seeking pockets of alone-time to draw their breath and notice how they are feeling.

"They can also manage their response to frequent or minor stresses by taking some regular exercise, manage alcohol and caffeine levels, value and cherish their core relationships and acknowledge what is causing stress and do something about it.

"We can feel at least a little better instantly by taking some action about something that is stressing us: Whether it's talking to another adult about a conflict or getting the whole family to school and work a few minutes earlier and with less aggro."


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