Mum-of-seven shares her top parenting tips

As Jen Hogan’s book hits the shelves today, she gives us an insight into how she manages school with her seven children

Jen Hogan. Picture: Sabrina Dunny

The summer holidays have come and gone and many parents around the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief. By the end of June, I was looking forward to a break from the rigidity and monotony of school runs, lunch-making, and homework battles. Freedom (of sorts) was on the horizon and it looked mighty fine from where I was standing.

Two (and three) months of “I’m bored”, “what are we doing today?” and “Muuuum, he looked/breathed/smiled at me”, on repeat, was enough to help me refocus and
appreciate that these things were a comparatively small price to pay for my sanity. And though I felt a little sentimental as I waved the troops off that first morning of the new school year, and lamented the surrender of our evenings to homework and afterschool activities, I knew that a return to a familiar routine was beneficial for all of us.

Having seven children of all
different ages and all at different stages means that logistical and practical planning is not only beneficial, it’s downright essential if there is to be any hope of us
getting out the door on time, on those frantic school mornings.

But school is about so much more than the morning rush. Each year brings a new adventure and new
beginning for our children and one during which we can’t hold their hand every step of the way.

School life is not just confined to school buildings and school hours. Whether it’s homework, new friendships, afterschool activities or particular challenges, school life infiltrates home life.

And that’s where we, as parents, come in. We may not be there during the school day but that doesn’t mean we can’t support smooth runnings from the home front. As different as our children are from each other, so too are their reactions and relationships with school and all that it entails.

Variety is indeed the spice of life and who knows those spices better and how to support their individuality than parents. It’s just about finding what works best.

Extract from Jen’s book:

I thought things would be easier when my children started at school. I thought the fact that they were of school age, with a structure to their day, meant that we would automatically fall into a sense of routine. And yes there was a routine of sorts that came naturally, which meant that they went to school at a certain time and came home at a certain time. What I didn’t wholly appreciate was how essential it was to create a routine at home to support the new school–life balance.

Jen Hogan’s seven children.

A set bedtime is a must for schoolchildren. Even if the hours are similar to the hours they might have spent in childcare, the demands are not. Young children are expected to focus at school, unlike their childcare environment, where they can move from activity to activity and play as they like. Levels of concentration not required before means that many children who are adjusting to the transition to school often fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon, in spite of it having been a couple of years since an afternoon nap was their norm. Overtired children don’t just have more difficulty focusing, they’re also more likely to be emotional and get upset easily. Making sure they get sufficient sleep can help to counteract this.

Mornings can be fractious affairs at the best of times and no one likes to start their day with a row, especially one with their children before they head to school.

Organising as much as you can the night before can help to take some of the pressure off an already hectic morning. Leave clothes and underwear out for the next day, including and especially shoes — one always seems to have disappeared otherwise. Make lunches the night before. Have notes and monies required by the school (numerous times a month, it seems) signed and in an envelope ready to go. Have any sports equipment or musical instruments by the door and raincoats at the ready. It’s worth getting up earlier yourself too, ahead of the kids, so that you can get ready in peace. You’re more likely to feel calm in the midst of the morning storm instead of roaring instructions at your kids with just one leg in your jeans. Resist the urge to hit the snooze button too many times.

Allow yourself plenty of time to arrive at school early: Five minutes can make all the difference in morning traffic and there is a lot to be gained by your child arriving early. Besides feeling less frazzled, lots of schools start the day with free play time. This is a fantastic way for your son or daughter to chat and make new friends while playing with the school toys and using their imagination. It’s also a time that most children love — what better way to start the day, especially if your little one is a reluctant schoolgoer.

Making friends: This can be one of the biggest things we as parents worry about, and sometimes it’s with good reason. How a child feels about something is often linked to the fun they have, and there’s often much more fun to be had when there are friends involved.

It can be of particular concern if your child is a little on the shy side or if they knew nobody in their class prior to starting school. Playdates are one of the buzzwords of the moment now. With parents working, or children going to school a distance from their house, there is no longer the guarantee they will have school friends living close by, or even available to play in the afternoons. Playdates have become very much the norm.

Even the shyest of children is generally very open to the idea of a playdate, particularly if it takes place on their territory. Of course if your child doesn’t know anyone in their class then there’s an excellent chance you don’t know any of the parents either. But fear not, there is a way around it — just don your organiser hat, and become the person who arranges the class contact list. It needn’t be as intimidating as it sounds. Just have a quick word with the teacher asking her to distribute a brief note introducing yourself, explaining that you’re trying to organise a class contact list for ease of contact and list the details you’re looking for: name, address, phone number, email, etc. Include your own details for reply and, voila, you’ve just become the mum whom everyone knows, virtually at least, if not yet necessarily in reality.

Organise a few playdates, but organise them separately. Don’t be tempted to have three or four children over at the same time. If you don’t know the children already, then you don’t know how the dynamics will work. It could be hell. Listen out for names you hear mentioned
frequently by your child (for the right reasons) and start there.

The Real Mum’s Guide to (Surviving) Parenthood by Jen Hogan Published by Orpen Press,€14.99


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