January 20, 2021
By Dr Kathy Weston
Of the many of us who are working and schooling from home at the moment, who isn't wishing for the normal school run, replete with pressure and that sense of purpose that kick-starts the day, for the whole family?
Rushed breakfasts and mini conflicts peppered pre-Covid weekday mornings, when everyone had to get where they needed to be, by 9am. The house emptied and we went our separate ways, only to congregate at the end of the day, with stories of our day to share.
For millions of parents and children, everyday mornings in our pre-pandemic life were stressful, and even anxiety-inducing. Now, in lockdown, you may have noticed that mornings can be stressful in a slightly different way, but still possibly induce feelings of anxiety.
I have always held the belief, that if we, as family units, were able to amend the way we ‘do mornings’, then we could really shape the tone of the rest of the day. If we only stopped to consider what aspects of our morning routine don’t work well, and reflected on new approaches, it could really improve the quality of our family life.
When you think of mornings, what is the first feeling that you experience? If you feel anxious about it, where does that anxiety live in your body? How do your children feel about mornings?
In my experience, when we actually ask our children about this particular point, they will readily point out exactly what the issues are; “You shout too much!” “There is never anything to eat for breakfast!” “I don’t like rushing and you stress me out.” “You are always in a hurry and never know where your keys are.” In general, parental stress may stem from work worries, the pressure to arrive at a destination on time, or centre on practical concerns related to family organisation.
Morning disorganisation can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. It is, more often than not, triggered by children’s disregard for putting things in the right place or lack of general pre-planning. Requests for items needed that day can tip us over the edge. A colleague was once informed by her teen at 8am that he needed a ‘lamb’s heart’ for his 9am A level practical!
Lockdown mornings feel stressful, not because we are going anywhere, but precisely because we aren’t. They can feel aimless and we need to inject them with a sense of purpose, without actually leaving the building. They can be anxiety-inducing because we all need to get on with our work, in an environment that may not be equipped for the demands of the day. The delineation between work and after-work may be hard to navigate and while familiarity can be nice, it can also breed contempt!
Mornings, whether during lockdown or not, require a careful audit. Here are some practical exercises to try at home.
Sit everyone down and ask them to write and hold up one word that describes how mornings feel in your home. Don’t do this in the morning! Instead, do it after dinner, when everyone is feeling relaxed. Talk about how mornings used to feel on a school day and what differences exist in lockdown.
If relevant, own up to your own anxiety about mornings, and ask how your children feel about starting the day with their remote learning provision. What could make it feel better? Where are the flashpoints? How might we each contribute to lessening the anxiety for one another? How can we set the tone for the day ahead in a more pleasant or joyful way? If you are struggling to control feelings of anxiety, I advise you to check out clinical psychologist, Dr Anna Colton’s advice on YouTube. The ‘Stop Technique’ that she describes is very simple and will help you to control a spiral of negative thoughts.
Some ideas for kick-starting the day well include a morning meditation together, 20 minutes of communal Pilates, enjoying a sunrise run, or asking our domestic, digital devices to play uplifting music on wake-up.
It is not often that we get the opportunity to enjoy breakfast as a family unit. Why not try something new over this period? Family members might take it in turn to research breakfasts from other parts of the world, and try to replicate them. Everyone can rate their efforts.
Remember those little kisses that you might have given or received on the way out the door, back in the good old days? Sustain this habit. Affection reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, increases connection and helps us to feel supported for the day ahead.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
Parents who belong to any of our ‘Tooled Up’ schools will find our Mindset Planner useful as a means of nudging your children into a good frame of mind following a day of remote learning. Beyond the school day, perhaps over weekends, if your tweens or teens complain that they are bored, hand them this Tooled Up list, featuring 100 productive suggestions of things to do. It should keep them busy for the entirety of lockdown!