‘If your kids are late to school, it’s actually on you’.
I blame the socks. They’re either too loose or too tight or there’s a “crinkle” in the toe which makes us late to school.
If it’s not socks, it’s shoes or refusing to get dressed altogether or eat breakfast, brush teeth or get into the car before the dreaded school bell. We only live six minutes drive from school (I’ve timed it) yet no matter how hard I tried, I could not get my two boys to school on time.
Whatever the excuse – and there have been many – I was convinced it was all my children’s fault. No matter how much I cajoled, bribed and, yes, on shameful occasion, stamped my foot and yelled, it didn’t make an iota of difference. Consequences were not a motivator. Nor was fear or just being late, the shame of slinking into class after their classmates had already sat down, accompanying ‘late note’ in hand. ‘Socks’, I wrote once in the ‘reason’ section of the ‘Late Book’ because that was why. ‘Shoes’ was another and ’refused to get in car’ more than once. Not because they don’t like school. They both do. But because kids don’t do time. Incidentally, one morning I noticed another mother had written ‘life’ as her late reason. A friend once wrote ‘Trump’. Both those things will do it.
I tried Lickety Split. Do you know it? It’s an app that another late-to-school-mum (a regular posse formed, a support group of sorts) got me onto. It times kids’ activities like getting dressed, brushing teeth, making beds with a musical accompaniment that reaches a crescendo as the deadline approaches. It worked for a bit as they strove to beat the clock until, like any game, they moved on. I used the timer on my phone. Until they learnt to switch it off and return to the Lego. I wrote a ‘morning schedule’ in bright coloured textas and blue-tacked it to the door. We all overlooked it in the rush to get out that door and into the car where I would roll out the same monotonous lecture about the perils of being late to a tuned-out audience of two as I broke speed records trying not to be.
One morning my son’s Year 2 teacher offered to help. He’s seen this before, no doubt. He suggested strategies. I explained I’d tried them all but nothing was working. I may have even cried. But then he presented me with a prime motivator: that being late was hard on my boys. When they don’t have time to play with the other kids before classes start, they’re behind the eight ball and it takes them longer to settle into the day. Oh.
Indeed research shows that chronic lateness impacts a child’s overall education. Kids who repeatedly arrive when school is in session often have trouble settling in and mastering routines, frequent tardiness linked to lower grades. They may also cop criticism from classmates for distracting the class. While punctuality teaches kids vital life skills like being responsible and meeting expectations.
It was a revelation. I had assumed dropping kids early was for parents who needed to dash off to work and, as I didn’t, it would be ‘slack’ for me to do so. For the first time in nearly three years of schooling it dawned on me that the ones being disadvantaged on the days we flew in the gate in the nick of time were my kids. I had to pick up our game.
And the onus didn’t rest on them but on me.
A friend’s husband, who’s equally responsible for parenting their kids, said to me once that when our children are late it’s always our doing. Haunted by the morning resistance and crinkled socks, I didn’t buy it. How is that anything to do with me? He explained that we’re the ones who set the pace and role model organisational techniques like planning ahead.
A school mum, Marianne, an engineer by trade, backs this up with empirical evidence. “It’s like a bell curve”, she says. “If we leave for school ten minutes before the bell we’ll regularly be late because we need the standard deviation. It actually takes ten minutes plus or minus three minutes to get to school for 95% of cases. Therefore if you leave home ten minutes before the bell you’ll be late 50% of the time. Leave home 13 minutes before the bell and you’ll arrive early 95% of the time. You’ve shifted your normal distribution over by three minutes which puts almost all of your distribution into ‘early’, instead of 50% early, 50% late”.
Another changes the clocks to ‘trick’ herself into thinking it’s later than it is.
So now it goes like this: I make lunches, iron uniforms and pack bags the night before. There’s no i-Pad until they’ve ticked off their to-do list. “It’s not a bribe, it’s ‘an incentive’”, says my son’s teacher. Most importantly, and here’s the killer for me, I wake up half an hour earlier. I have shifted my bell curve. For a night owl it’s not easy but, watching their joy playing tip before the bell, it’s worth it.
This article was first published on kidspot.com.au