We can teach our kids many lessons during our everyday routines.
As a busy mother, one of my greatest challenges is finding the time and energy to be physically and emotionally present to each of my kids every day. Fortunately, I’ve learned that being present doesn’t require grand gestures or even huge blocks of time. Instead, with a little intentionality, we can transform routines into moments of deep connection. Here’s how I’ve attempted to make preschool pickup an opportunity to make a meaningful connection with my kids:
1Prioritizing physical connection
Carpool line permitting, I always try to give my kids a big, long hug as soon as they’re in reach. While the preschool environment has many benefits, hours of separation from parents can be stressful for young kids. Hugs are a great way of regulating stress levels, releasing oxytocin, and reestablishing a physical connection. And as my former professor, renowned anthropologist James McKenna cautioned me, mothers should never ignore their own physical and emotional need to bond with their children—so I have no problem admitting that I enjoy the hugs too!
2Offering a token of welcome
I started bringing my kids a snack every day at pickup because it was nearly lunchtime and we had a long commute, but it quickly became clear that the kids both depended on the snack as a part of their routine and viewed it as a little sign of my care for them. Offering a “welcome back” token or gesture, such as a snack, a beloved toy to greet them in their car seat, or even the chance to pick out their favorite song each day for the ride home, can be an easy way to establish that your kids are back under the protection and comfort of their family.
3Opening the door for dialogue
An experienced mom once told me that the car ride home from school is the time you will learn the most about your child’s day. I am sure that isn’t universally true, since many children need time to decompress before they have the energy to talk, but I do think opening the door to dialogue, and creating a routine where it is encouraged, can be helpful.
Once settled in their car seats, I usually say something like “I can’t wait to hear about your day! Do you want to talk now, or do you want to rest for a few minutes before we talk?” When they’re ready to talk, I focus on asking very specific questions, because I’ve found those are more likely to elicit responses. Rather than general questions like “how was your day?” I try to ask what specific projects they worked on, who they played with at recess, and especially how they felt at certain times of the day, (e.g. “when you worked on that project, did you feel happy and content, or frustrated?”). I also ask many questions about their classmates, to show them early on that it’s acceptable to share things with me about what’s happening in their peer group.
These three very simple gestures have turned the routine of school pick up into a sacred time between me and my kids, a time of connection that I look forward to each day.