Getting out of the house can become an extremely stressful and anxiety inducing time for many families. For little ones (and bigger ones), who have been tucked away in their homes, all safe and sound, leaving their sanctuary is a huge ask and for parents and carers this daily battle can be extremely frustrating and exhausting.
If you recognise this situation then it is likely you will need to dedicate some time to getting to a position where you can leave the house without a half an hour of upset. There isn't an overnight fix but here are a few tips to help encourage your child to enter the big wide world with a smile on their face.
Please note that if leaving the house has become a long term and unmanageable experience please reach out to your child's school and request a meeting with the school SENCO or pastoral lead or your GP. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee the support will be what it should be with current systems and policies in place however they may be able to direct you to further support. Do not tackle this alone. If you have tried this and it has not worked please get in touch for a 15 minute free check in or email us and we can help search for experts in your local area who you may be able to contact for support.
1. Stay calm
Try to remain calm and consistent in the time leading up to leaving the house. If you notice that their behaviour is deteriorating in the short time before you leave, it is likely that they are feeling anxious and it is being displayed in this way. It is important to recognise and acknowledge how they feel. You can validate their feelings by saying "I can see that you are feeling worried about leaving the house, I understand that you are finding this tricky at the moment but I am here to help you". This lets them know that they are being heard and are being taken seriously.
2. Maintain perspective
Yes, being late for school and/or work isn't ideal and in some cases it can cause serious conflict with colleagues but do try to remember that being late isn't the worst thing that could happen to you and that your reaction to the lateness will have a profound effect on how you feel for the rest of the day. Take a deep breath and take your time in dealing with the issue at hand, this way you are much more likely to come out of the situation with a positive outcome.
3. Sand timers
For little ones time is an abstract concept; they can't see it or touch it and so measuring it becomes extremely difficult. Use sand timers to mentally prepare your children for stopping their play and leaving the house. You can get sand timers for 2, 5 and 10 minutes so you can give them the necessary warnings for different situations. For example "Sam, in 10 minutes we will be leaving for school, when the sand has all fallen to the bottom that is when we are leaving" This way they can really see the amount of time they have. Sand timers also come in handy for sharing toys and toothbrushing too!
4. Visual timetables
Visual timetables really help children to prepare for the hours and days ahead. You can use as much or as little detail as suits your child; some people choose to make a card for everything they do in their day such taking a bus, going to the park and bath time and some like to mark the day with a card for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just ensure that you have a card for whatever moment is proving problematic in your day. You can see my pandemic home school visual timetable here.
5. Invite children to prepare
Encourage your child to prepare their own bag, shoes, clothes and coat for the journey ahead. If it's for school you can do it the night before so it doesn't take up time in the morning. With this preparation you give them a sense of control over the future activity that they feel is taking them out of their comfort zone.
6. Screaming and crying is communicating
Your child may communicate their fears, worries and anxieties by screaming and crying - this is normal. When your child reaches crisis point it is unlikely that you will be able to communicate effectively with them; the part of the brain that rationalises has flipped and cannot engage, so holding a thoughtful conversation, reflecting on their behaviour just won't work. Sit nearby, let them know you are there (this could be a hand on the back or using words - this is different for every child) and when they have calmed down you can hug them and talk it through. Please note that the right time to talk about it may not be immediately after they have calmed down, it may be better for you to come back to it later in the day. Read more about how to deal with anger here.
7. Be kind to yourself
As hard as it is, try not to react negatively to crying and screaming BUT we are all human and sometimes we will do exactly that. Beating yourself up about this will only make the situation worse, be kind to yourself and accept your reaction. If, upon reflection, you feel your reaction wasn't the right response then find the right time to apologise to your child. It is extremely important for your child to see you make mistakes and rectify them; it is how they learn!
8. Find something pleasant to do on your journey
Routine and boundaries make our children (and many adults!) feel safe. Create certain routines for your different journeys out of the house. For example every time you are on your way to school you play 'I spy' or for every journey to swimming lesson you eat a snack. These details need only be small but they are attaching something familiar to something that may feel quite daunting to your child.
9. Try not to remove toys or treats as punishment
Try not to punish your child for the difficulties they have created in leaving the house. Their behaviour is communicating an anxiety or worry that they have and it is important that they always feel encouraged to share their feelings however they may choose to do it. In time they will learn how to better communicate them but it is a skill that takes a lifetime, as we all know! Read more about consequences here.
Post pandemic the freedom and hugeness of the world around us is exaggerated; what would have felt completely normal in the past may now be exhausting and overwhelming. Remember that it will take time for us all to get over the pandemic but do not worry, humans are resilient and it is only through experiencing these difficult moments that we learn to bounce back. Practise practise practise.