6 ways to make the morning school run stress-free

School run, child being dropped off at school. (Getty Images)
How do you do the school run in the morning? (Getty Images)

Two-fifths (38%) of UK parents say they find the school run stressful, according to new research. Can you relate?

A similar number of parents (37%) report driving their children to school despite being within walking distance, the survey by 100Green as part of Walk to School Week finds. But half wish they ditched the car more often, while seven in 10 find walking to school is beneficial for their families' mental health.

However you choose to get there, here BACP-registered counsellor Georgina Sturmer shares her six top tips for a stress-free morning school run (plus how to make the switch to walking instead if you can, with ease).

Mother helping son get ready for school
While it might never be perfect, the school run can be more smooth sailing than you think. (Getty Images)

"Being late or in a rush adds an extra layer of stress to a situation. So, try making sure that you add a few minutes as a buffer to your journey if you can. It might feel difficult to leave slightly earlier, but you’ll thank yourself for it if you get stuck in traffic or something unexpected happens," Sturmer advises.

An effective buffer zone also comes with planning ahead. "Instead of sorting lunches and uniforms out in the morning, try to set aside 10-15 minutes doing it the night before. Once you’re in the routine of it, and not rushing around in the AM, it will feel like an easier job," the parents working at 100Green suggest.

"If your children are old enough, why not try encouraging them to get their own clothes ready the night before. Over time, as children build routines, they’ll be able to complete them with less help."

A shot of young, Caucasian boy and girl sitting in the back of the car commuting to school.
Make your children aware of what's expected of them. (Getty Images)

Building on the last tip, for children old enough, make them aware of what time they need to be ready to leave (which may well be the earlier-than-needed time you've set).

"If your children are old enough to take on specific responsibilities and follow set timings, then it’s useful to establish some ground rules and boundaries. That way, it’s everyone’s responsibility to get ready in time, and it doesn’t just fall on your shoulders," says Sturmer.

The parents at 100Green also point out that the anticipation of a small reward goes a long way. "This could be allowing them to hold the dog lead on the school run, or choose the pudding for that night's dinner."

child who has dropped bowl of cereal milk on floor
There really is no point crying over spilt milk. (Getty Images)

"We all have an idea of what the perfect family school run might look like. As parents, when we try to seek an idealised perfection, it can make us feel anxious or insecure," the counsellor explains.

"The reality is that we all have good days and bad days, and as parents, we just need to try our best to be 'good enough', not perfect. If we can embrace the possibility of imperfection, then it can buy us some time and some energy when we are trying to get everybody ready."

This can also relate to how 'green' your school journey is, with it not realistic for everyone to be 100% environmentally friendly all the time. "What’s more important is to give yourself grace to be a normal human being, without giving yourself a hard time about it," say the 100Green parents.

"Maybe you opted to swing by Greggs for breakfast because there wasn’t enough milk for everyone’s cereals – don’t beat yourself up."

While the priority may be getting the kids out the door and through the school gates on time, this shouldn't be at your expense entirely.

"It might feel as if mornings are just a process of sorting everybody else out. Is there time to do something for yourself when you start your day?" asks Sturmer.

"If so, build it in and make it a non-negotiable. Even if it’s just a long peaceful shower without needing to cater to anyone else’s needs, or a few minutes of screen-free time when you wake up in the morning.

Mother and pupil and kids holding hands going to school in first class with schoolbag or satchel walking to school bus, Parent and son,sister preschool
Parents can benefit from taking turns helping each other out. (Getty Images)

"Life doesn't always go to plan," Sturmer acknowledges. "Sometimes we need to lean on the support of fellow parents. Be open to the idea of asking for help, and offering it in return.

"We might not always need other people’s help, but it can be reassuring to know that it’s there if we need it."

The parents at 100Green emphasise that most parents are in the same boat, and all it takes is being the first one to open up conversation and ask for support, which can benefit everyone. "You could suggest setting up a WhatsApp group for parents to request support like pick-ups or date night cover, or even set up a walk-to-school club with parents nearby."

"If you decide to try leaving the car at home and walking to school instead, you can make it an easier transition by allowing your children to feel involved," says Sturmer.

This might involve:

  • Children helping to plan the route, or figure out how long it will take

  • Making it into a game along the way, spotting different coloured cars on the road, or different trees on the footpath

"The walk itself can be great for our own wellbeing too," adds the counsellor. "Even if corralling our children takes up some energy, it’s great to be outside in the fresh air and to escape the stress of traffic jams and parking."

Watch: The most stressful time of day is 8.15am, according to a study