Long day? Overwhelmed by your to-do list and the ice cream is melting in the car? Yes, you say? Let’s make those pick-ups peaceful and quick, shall we?
For starters, make sure your child knows what is expected of them during pick-up. Be explicit about your expectations. Children like to make adults happy, but when they don’t know what’s expected of them they can’t cooperate. We make assumptions that they know what to do during routines, but if they’ve never explicitly been told, they can’t know! And children, like adults, need practice. Telling them what to do in the heat of the moment isn’t so helpful. Imagine your tennis coach (wouldn’t that be nice!) yelling orders about how to serve in the midst of your match. You probably won’t alter your swing too much in that moment. It’s probably going to be your regular old swing, or maybe it’ll be a terrible serve because you’re overwhelmed with their additional stimulus. But, when you and your tennis coach practice your serve, by breaking down the steps, and you practice each step chronologically, you’re more likely to actually improve your serve during the game.
Set your routine. Have your child help tell this story. “First we say hello and give big hugs, then what do we do? Next I ask you about what your day, and we get cleaned up. What would you like help with when we pack up? After we pack up we head home to decide what delicious food we’re going to have for dinner!” Even better, write and illustrate the “Going Home” book together! Be sure to talk about your leaving routine when you drive to school in the morning. Especially if your child has a hard time with drop offs, this will reiterate that you’ll be there at the end of the day so excited to see them. Like anything, practice! You can even play “pick-up” at home with your child.
So now it’s time to enter the classroom, and that ice cream is melting and the steak isn’t going to cook itself:
1. Take five deep breaths before you get out of the car. Stick with a really calming routine: inhale for eight seconds, hold the breath in your stomach for two seconds, exhale for eight seconds, hold for two seconds, and repeat.
2. Walk into your child’s classroom with a smile on your face, and offer them a sweet greeting like, “I’m so happy to see you” or “There’s my love bug” or “Hi, you!”. Make your greeting genuine for you; kids are the ultimate lie detectors. Be sure to make physical contact with your child when you offer them this greeting. A gentle hand on the shoulder, arm, or head will remind them of your bond.
3. Now wait a moment and watch. Allow them time to wrap up. As our good friend Mr. Rogers reminds us, “Play is often talked about as a relief from serious learning. But for children, play IS serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” When you enter their classroom offer them a few moments to finish their work. They know you’re the prompt to clean up. After you’ve given them some time, make an observation of what your child is working on. You could say “Oh, it looks like you and Max are having so much fun coloring. I see lots of purple!” or “Wow, you and Stella have so much energy, you’re running really fast!” And then let them know you can’t wait to hear about the rest of their day.
4. Give them even a minute or two of your attention and warmth, and then let them know it’s time to head home. Be silly in this transaction. Your kid loves when you’re silly, and when you and your child laugh together they are more apt to be helpful.
5. As you’re gathering up their belongings offer them thanks for being responsible, again be genuine. “Thanks for carrying your lunch box” or “You must feel strong today carrying your lunch box”. Then ask them any one of these amazing questions, and you and your child will be giggling all the way to the car.
Don’t forget, just like that tennis serve, your child isn’t going to have the perfect pick up the first, second or even third time after you’ve discussed and practiced your routine. Just like your serve, it’s going to take some time. Be patient with them and with yourself.