No matter how many children you have, and what your schedule is there are certain pressure points within the day during which you wonder how you can get everything done.
One of these times that we chat to clients about on a regular basis is the time between coming home from the last activity of the day and your children going to sleep. The reality is that in only a couple of hours, a myriad of tasks need to be accomplished and the older your child is, the more pressure there is. These activities include, extra curricular lessons, homework, dinner time, bathing or showering and of course the bedtime routine itself. This list is by no means during this period of time.
Whatever the case in your home, here are our 5 top tips to minimising the chaos in the run up to bedtime!
1) FORWARD PLANNING: For most families, any given day of the week follows a pattern. Set times of pick up, after school activities, extra lessons and homework, dinner and everything else fits in around it. In order to facilitate the unknown on any given day, it can be helpful to forward plan the things you do know. Where possible, make some of dinner in advance – using the freezer when you cook can help here! Having in the car when you go out the first time for pick up everything you will need for the rest of the evenings outings eg: sports equipment and snacks can also help avoid last minute panics! The other thing that is relatively predictable for most children in primary school is homework. If you know how much and what they will have on any given night, you can ensure they have the time to do it and you have the time to support them as needed. It can help to have a weekly planner for the after school hours especially if you have more than one child and routine.
2) REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: With the never ending to do lists that we all try to master each day, we often forget what is actually realistic for us to achieve in any given period of time if we actually want to sleep! This is certainly the case with the after school rush. Figure out what are the things that absolutely have to be achieved by you and each of your children in that time on that day. If there are things that can wait until the weekend, let them. After school is also a time where children are tired and still processing everything from that day. Therefore many parents will find that most arguments at home between siblings occur at this time! Think about the fact that your child is probably near the end of their patience when they get home and it is probably worth picking your battles.
3) DOWN TIME: If you want to be able to interact with your child and for them to be rational when they talk back, it is worth considering introducing a period of “down time” into their day shortly after their school day ends. This time ( 20-30 mins) should be a time when they are alone with their own thoughts doing something that will relax them. It is unlikely they will achieve much that requires focus or attention until they have had this. This time can be in the car on the way to after school activities with their own headphones and music, can be playing lego or drawing when they get home or can be watching something appropriate. Either way, during this time, try to avoid asking them anything at all – they will come to you if they need you.
4) SCHEDULE / CHECKLIST: Once your child is old enough to understand, a visual schedule for what needs to be done between crèche/ school and bedtime can be really useful. For toddlers, these can be simple pictures of the basic routine things – dinner, bath, reading etc. Once your child is older, this list can include homework and after school activities as well. The key is that they should take responsibility for it. It is up to them to ensure these things get done. There are a couple of benefits to this, the first is that you are not fighting over whether or not your child showered and the second is that you are instilling in them a sense of responsibility for their own time and belongings. For some families, these checklists work well when accompanied by rewards if everything is achieved.
5) 1 to 1 TIME : In all of the running around after school it is easy to become caught up in the mechanics of everything being accomplished rather than focus on the meaningful conversations with your children. Most children ( of all ages) will settle better and sleep better if at some point in the evening they have had an opportunity to be alone with either mum or dad. This can be whilst doing something else eg: bathing or driving to an activity. It can also be just before reading time or during a joint activity you do with your child. This is a chance for your child to not only talk about their day but also a chance for you to get to know your child! By the things they are chatting about – what they did, who they hung out with, what test they are nervous about – you are likely to learn huge amounts of information about your child which they are less likely to tell you with other siblings around.
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