When I talk to my friends with school age children, who struggle to get their little ones dressed, brushed and zipped up on time every day, I realise my kids are magical unicorns of our time. That is, they get themselves ready for school, and I never ever ever have to nag them to get out the door or we'll be late. Ever.
I have three kids, aged 13, seven and five. I don't use fancy charts or stickers. I don't shout. I don't really do much at all.
Want me to tell you how I did it?
Before I do, you should know a couple of things about this situation:
1. I'm a solo parent who works from home, and starts early – before each child wakes up. I need for them to take care of themselves or the whole system falls apart, so my motivation is high and my standards are perhaps a little bit low.
2. I'm not above using screen time as bribery. I used to be once, but that all changed – see point 1.
I made one simple rule: once you've got yourself dressed, had breakfast, brushed your teeth and hair, and made your bed, you can have some screen time.
At the time I made that rule, screen time in the mornings was unheard of. I was always pretty hard-line about that one. What kind of children would I be raising if they had their faces in screens before they've even left the house in the morning?
Then I started working mornings and I thought maybe they'd get through just fine. I know I'm lucky because I can work from home. I am available to do up zips, find the occasional errant shoe, or open a new packet of cereal. But I've set up my house so that it's all easily accessible by all ages.
I prepare school lunch components – sandwiches, muffins, yoghurt, fruit, chopped vegetables – in advance and the children can choose what they'd like from the available options and put them in their own lunchbox. And I always check the day before that everyone has clean uniforms.
I'm also lucky in that my children are all willing to help each other out if they need it, so I'll often find my eldest child making breakfast for my youngest (even though she's entirely capable of doing it herself).
The screen time bribe is so enticing, my seven-year-old son started getting ready at blistering speed. He'd have everything done within 20 minutes of waking and then have two hours to kill before we left for school. That led me to introduce the cap system where he's allowed to watch for 45 minutes and then has to go and do something else, but who's complaining? The kid is looking fresh and ready to tackle the day at 6:15am!
The screen time solution won't be for everyone, of course, and if you object to screens in the morning, I respect your upstanding parenting. Me? I do what I have to do to get by. And by the time the children have finished school, I'm done with work for the day and am available to make afternoon tea, play games, help with homework, ferry my kids to myriad activities and do all the things parents do.
And there is no screen time in the afternoon.