Do you ever wonder why getting out the house can be SO difficult? Why getting out the door for school or nursery puts everyone in a bad mood? Do you find that as soon as you say, "Come on, lets go!" all hell breaks loose and your kids are rolling around on the floor having tantrums, or kicking you like you've just asked them to put their favourite toy on the fire?
Maybe you think it's because your kids are badly behaved or they like winding you up at these times, or are playing up because they don't want to go out or go to school. You could be right, but it could also be because you're not giving yourself, and therefor them, enough time to do things at a pace that works for them and their developing brain. Perhaps they aren't hearing you the first time when you ask them get ready because you're rushing around doing your stuff.
Transitions like changing activities or going out are often tricky for all children, not just neurodivergent children, because they are required to take their focus from one thing, that they may be enjoying, to another, that is possibly less desirable, before they are ready to make that change. This kind of change is difficult for adults but we can rationalise and then quickly accept it because we have an understanding of the what's, why's and consequences of our actions. Over time, we have trained ourselves to look beyond the moment we are in so that we can self-soothe any disappointment we feel, and move onto the next task or activity. Young children haven't yet learnt to do this, and this is why they struggle.
When you are in a hurry to leave the house, and you know you're running late, and you become stressed, you put pressure on your child. They may not know that they are going to be late, and most likely don't understand what the repercussions might be, so their natural response to this highly stressed situation is "fight or flight"! This response triggers a variety of behaviour that is difficult to deal with when you are a stressed adult, which can then lead to you feeling anger. Once your child picks up on your anger, their fight or flight response strengthens, and you all end up in an angry, fighting, distressed mess! The rolling around on the floor, refusing to put their shoes on is them telling you that they are feeling scared about making the transition to the next part of the day because you are giving off "danger vibes". In their head, the best thing for all of you is to stay right where you are, in the safety of your home. And the way to keep you there is to fight with you and refuse to get ready.
Crying and tantrums are your child's way of communicating feelings that they can't put into words. Often feelings that they don't yet understand.
So although you may not want to get up earlier, or you may want to take your time over your morning coffee, or even tidy up before you go out, try putting yourself in your little person's shoes and think about how they feel about that hectic time of getting all their winter layers on and getting out the door into the cold. Or in the summer, getting their sun cream and hat on when they are desperate to get outside and play. If you are feeling stressed, they will be feeling it too, but because they are still at the start of their learning journey with emotions, the feelings that are being triggered by your stress can quickly become overwhelming.
Here are some tips to make getting out the house faster, easier and free of tantrums.
Use visual timetables to help your child understand what they need to do in the morning. Draw, download or print photos of the 5-8 steps of your morning routine, put them in a straight line so your child knows what order to do them in, and talk them through when you wake up each morning. It may even help to keep you focused!
Give your child 5, 3 and 1 minute warnings when it's time to start getting ready to leave the house. This will help your child to prepare for the transition. When you give a child a countdown warning, you break into their thoughts and bring them back into the present moment which is an easier place to bring them out of than when they are deep into a game or activity. AND it will help you to stay on top of your time management.
Don't use bribery when things are going wrong. Bribing can be a default behaviour of a lot of parents once they start to get stressed, but you end up rewarding your child's unwanted behaviour, which gives them the green light to use it again. You can make them aware of the natural consequences of being late, but this will only help if they care about the natural consequences. For example, "You won't have time to play with your best friend before you go into class," is more likely to help than, "We won't get a good parking spot and we'll have to walk further, and mummy will be late for work." (Kids just don't give a shit about your problems!)
Don't bother using a reward chart in time-pressured situations. Rewards and reward charts only really work when you have time to acknowledge the achievement the moment it happens, get the reward, and then give your child time to feel the pride of that achievement. Getting out the house doesn't allow for this. And offering the reward once you get home at the end of the day is WAY too late.
Walk away and calm down when you feel your stress levels rising as this will stop you transferring your stressed out emotions onto your child, and this in turn will stop your child becoming more difficult. You can tell them what you're doing and it will teach them to walk away and calm down when they need to. You can say, "I'm starting to feel a bit cross because we're running out of time to get ready so I'm just going to go into the other room and take a few deep breaths to calm down. I'll be right back." Stepping away for a minutes will take far less time than fighting with a wriggling octopus child who is refusing to put their shoes and coat on.
Do your prep! If you find that getting out is always difficult, make sure you have everything laid out and ready for your child so that you don't have to rush around finding things when you've already asked them to get ready. If your child is old enough to get their own things together, give them an extra five minutes to get their stuff together and find the lost shoe that's right in front of them.
Make sure you get their full attention before you speak to them, so that you know that they have heard you and acknowledged what you've asked them to do. This means that you'll need to stop what you're doing so you can get down on their level and make eye contact with them. You can also give them an extra hug while you're down there!
Do not put the TV or any other screen on until they are ready to walk out the door, because once the TV goes on, you're fighting a losing battle to get their attention back. Ideally, don't put screens on at all in the morning, particularly at mealtimes, but that's a whole discussion on it's own.
Preparation and time are the keys to stress-free exits. You won't always manage it as there will be the occasional unexpected curveball, but by following these tips you should be able to improve most days.