The school pickup war zone

Thanks to the rapid changes in technology especially smart phones, well-meaning parents are much more easily distracted in their day-to-day lives than parents used to be. Hey, even without a smart phone, I once forgot to collect one of my four sons after soccer training, and I also forgot lunches, assemblies and early pickups.

The recent story of a 10 month old girl found floating a kilometre out to sea after her parents simply ‘forgot’ she was there while they were sunbaking sounded almost too far-fetched to believe but it’s quite possible exhaustion and distraction played a role in this near calamity.

Parental distraction, especially towards the end of the day when we might head to school to collect our child/children can cause mature adults (even with our prefrontal lobes) to behave badly or without thinking.

If someone is trying to check their email or reschedule an appointment via SMS then it’s likely they are not focused on the task at hand: collecting their children safely from school and greeting them with a smile and a hug before the afternoon/evening activities get underway.

Instead, I regularly hear stories of impatient parents cutting in front of others to secure parking, not giving way at school crossings, or honking their horns loudly while double parked to attract their children’s attention.

While I totally understand that sleep deprivation and stress can make us behave as though we do not have an executive functioning brain, I’m seriously concerned with the risk-taking that occurs in school zones. And I know I am not alone.

Maybe it’s time to consider some other options to alleviate the pressure of being in a hurry to collect children after school.

One tip that may work, is to tell your children that rather than waiting for them immediately after the bell goes, that you will be 15 minutes later than usual (make sure the time you set is within the school’s hours of supervision). This allows your children to exit their classrooms without the need to panic or hurry.

This will hopefully also allow them time to notice that jumper and sports shoes left under the bag, and maybe even to grab something quick to eat as they make their way to the collection point.

This extra time will reduce the stress in their little bodies and also allow the traffic bottleneck to clear a little. Teachers are usually only on duty for around 30 minutes after the bell so please make sure you respect that.

Another tip might be for parents to consider taking turns to collect each other’s children from school. Or perhaps taking turns to walk a group of friends to a nearby park for a quick play and arranging to meet there for pickup?

Finally, for children who are old enough, seriously consider public transport. Resilience in life is incredibly important and being able to negotiate public transport, especially in our big cities, is a life skill that your child can take forward into their adult life. It is better if they are able to travel with siblings or friends, and think of the extra time you will have out of the school pick-up warzone.

So let’s be clear about illegal or inappropriate behaviour by grown-ups in school zones.

  1. Double parking is illegal.
  2. Parking on some road verges is also illegal.
  3. Parking in the bus zone is illegal (and dangerous)… check the signs.
  4. Entering a clogged roundabout is illegal.
  5. Driving or parking while texting or talking on the phone is illegal.
  6. Honking car horns loudly is not illegal but it is rude.
  7. Cars and buses must give way to pedestrians at school crossings where there are flags (regardless of whether or not a zebra crossing is present).
  8. Doing a U turn over double white lines is illegal.
  9. Adhering to the speed limit in school zones is essential for everyone’s safety.
  10. Abusing people who do any of the above is not illegal, however it’s also not helpful.

Parental distraction is a condition we all suffer at times. So remember with some compassion, patience and a sense of humour — on any given day this badly behaving grown-up could be you.

Some parents may be struggling by mid-afternoon with severe sleep deprivation, looming work deadlines or appointments, stress, postnatal depression, anxiety disorders, illness, concern about their child, or they may simply have a general sense of feeling unappreciated, unloved and invisible.

What matters the most is that in this daily ritual everyone’s children are collected safely, no cars are injured and everyone gets home in one piece.

Our children’s safety needs to be our first priority every afternoon. And beyond this, it doesn’t hurt them to see the adults in their lives behaving calmly, respectfully and kindly as they roll out of the school gate.


Image credit: ©️ Кирилл Рыжов /Adobe Stock –