Children going to school

Manic Mornings: Why is the School Run So Stressful?

Stressing about the school run? You’re not alone. In fact, our research has revealed that the morning routine is one of the most stressful aspects of family life, coming in only behind looking after children during the summer holidays and caring for them when they’re ill. 

In a recent study of 2,000 British parents, we found that the average parent feels stressed at least two times per week, with over one in 10 feeling this way every single day. Plus, the whole family is feeling the strain, with 44% of children also getting stressed during the morning routine. 

So, why is it so stressful?

  1. Running late – we discovered that running late is the number one cause of morning stress for British parents. Almost half suggest that the routine is more often rushed than relaxed, and a further quarter admit that their child is late for school several times per month. 
  1. Children are slow to get ready – there are lots of reasons why children drag their heels when getting ready in the morning, but one fundamental challenge is that children simply don’t have the same sense of urgency as adults. This can leave parents feeling as though they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to getting everyone out the door on time.
  1. Getting children out of bed – we all know how it feels to try to get a tired child out of bed in a rush, so it’s no surprise that this comes in at number three. Our research found that Mondays are a particular challenge, with many parents citing that children are reluctant to get up after the more relaxed weekend routine. 
  1. Having to be the one to remember everything – our research found that the majority of morning chores fall to mothers in the average UK family. Mums are responsible for packing school bags, lunchboxes, and PE kits, as well as ensuring kids are in the correct uniform and signing any permission forms they need.
  1. Ensuring children have brushed their teeth – less than a third of parents trust their children to do this alone, with the majority fighting a tough battle to ensure their children’s teeth are clean before they head off to school in the morning.

How is this impacting families?

Sadly, our research found that the pressure of the morning routine is having a significant impact on families.

  1. Waking up unhappy – the majority of parents feel negative emotions when they wake up on a school morning. Half of parents said they feel tired as soon as they open their eyes, whilst a quarter feel stressed, 23% feel exhausted, and 13% feel overwhelmed.
  1. Arguments – almost half of parents admit to arguing with their child regularly during the morning routine, whilst 45% claim they should the most during the school run. As a result, 35% say their child has gone to school upset and 29% have been reduced to tears themselves because of a bad school run. It’s no surprise then, that 41% of parents believe their family would get on better if they didn’t have to do the weekday morning routine. 
  1. Parental guilt – heartbreakingly, half of British mums and dads have felt like they’re not good parents during the morning routine, whilst a third worry it’s damaging their relationship with their child.
  1. Loss of productivity – the impact of a bad morning can continue long after children have been dropped at the school gates, with half of parents saying a bad drop-off can ruin the whole day. A further third say they are less productive for the rest of the day following a stressful morning. 
  1. Avoidance – it’s no wonder, therefore, that some parents have considered extreme action to prevent the pressure of the school run. Almost a quarter have been tempted to homeschool their child permanently just to avoid the morning routine, whilst one in five have kept their child home from school simply to keep the peace.

How can my family reduce morning stress?

Whilst it’s comforting to know that we’re all in it together, no one wants to start their day feeling panicked or overwhelmed. Thankfully, there are steps families can take to reduce anxiety and make their mornings as calm and positive as possible. Here are our top tips:

  1. Establish happy habits – our research shows that families that eat breakfast together are almost twice as likely to have a positive morning than those that eat separately or skip breakfast altogether. So, why not try setting the alarm a little earlier and preparing a quick breakfast that the whole family can eat around the table together? You could even opt for a make-ahead recipe, like overnight oats, to save you time in the morning.
  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff – whether it’s opting for stick-on name labels over sew-in, or packing shop-bought healthy snacks for the kids rather than homemade treats, we firmly believe parents should never feel guilty for using time-saving hacks. Life is busy enough as it is, so anything that saves you time to focus on keeping yourself and your family happy and healthy can only be a good thing.
  1. Encourage independence – when you’re running late, it’s incredibly tempting to take over by helping your child dress themselves, brush their teeth, or tie their shoelaces. However, this can be damaging in the long run. Using the morning routine as an opportunity to teach your child to take responsibility will be a valuable lesson and help to speed up mornings in the future. 
  1. Incentivise good behaviour – get your kids engaged in getting ready by offering little incentives for them throughout the routine. Could you allow them 10 minutes to play their game after they’ve brushed their teeth? Or their favourite after-school snack if they arrive at school on time? Sometimes a little treat is all it takes to boost children’s motivation. 
  1. Make the most of your journey – whilst getting out of the house can be a challenge, our research found that the majority of parents find the journey itself a more positive experience, claiming it’s a good opportunity to bond with their child. Interestingly, it’s those that walk or cycle to school who are most like to enjoy the journey. Using the school run as an opportunity to get some exercise in as a family will also give you and your child a healthy boost of endorphins to kickstart the day.

For more advice on preparing your child for the school year ahead, read our back-to-school guide for parents.

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