School’s out for the summer and both parents and kids around the country are anticipating the sweet relief from high-strung schedules of the school term – sleeping in late, added time in front of the TV, and lazy sunshine-filled family trips abroad are the stuff our summer idylls are made of. Not this year, though. With the pandemic still calling the shots on our social lives, this summer break is going to be an unsettling one for a lot of children without the usual travel plans or physical summer camps that shape their vacation.

Which makes it doubly important to have routine in place, says Sonia Singhal, psychologist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre, Dubai. “Parents might be tempted to let kids run free for the next two months, especially considering the whole new set of challenges that e-learning threw at them. But it’s important for children to have a school holiday schedule.”

What sounds like an oxymoron is in reality a winning combo to ensuring your child’s well-being. “A daily routine establishes a sense of normalcy and provides security, stability and consistency for children,” explains Sonia.

And children have experienced so much uncertainty and upheaval since the spread of Covid-19, the stability of a well-worn routine has never been more welcome. “It’s something they can rely on that won’t change unexpectedly, even if it is just a daily reminder to brush their teeth or walk the dog.”

Nihla Anas (37), a Sharjah-based mum of four, knows all too well the benefits of instilling summer routines for her sons aged 14, 11 and 6. “They don’t lethargically lounge around and kill time because they’re busy reading or doing engaging activities. So they’re not bored or anxious because they have no time for idle thoughts.”

Sonia agrees that without structure, boredom, anxiety and depression can creep in as kids need a sense of purpose. “Not knowing what to expect on any given day leads to feelings of being lost and restlessness which can [trigger] negative attention-seeking behaviours and emotional turmoil.”

The absence of a routine, she points out, also causes issues such as disturbances in sleep patterns, irregular eating habits and lack of exercise or physical activity, which can lead to weight gain, and reduced productivity because of excessive screen time.

A daily routine establishes a sense of normalcy and provides security, stability and consistency for children, explains psychologist Sonia Singhal
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While kids use the summer to recuperate from the stress of studies, routines guarantee they don’t run the risk of brain drain and lose knowledge and skills. Studies have shown kids’ cognitive abilities can be affected by extended breaks; it’s why schools assign the dreaded holiday homework. Sonia recommends weaving in fun activities such as reading and writing into their routine to foster mental stimulation. “Choosing topics of their own interest, instead of focused learning for a particular assignment [will keep them motivated].’

This, however, doesn’t mean you go heavy-handed with regimenting your child’s summer to the second, without breathing room. “Free time should be scheduled into the routine so children learn [downtime] is an important part too,” explains Sonia.

She goes on to add how children who follow a consistent bedtime, meal time and fixed times for chores from a young age develop self-discipline for the future. “It improves their organisational skills and lead a calmer, less chaotic lifestyle.” Nihla encountered these positives when she had her hands full with her new-born daughter – her boys independently completed chores and stayed busy without demanding extra attention or feeling adrift. “[ A routine] is so ingrained in them, I know they’ll be fine even when they strike out on their own to college.” It’s proven – far from clipping their wings, a summer schedule will help your children soar.

How to create a summer calendar

Now that you’ve been sold on the impact and benefits of a summer routine for your kids, let’s get to the pressing question: how exactly do you craft a perfect timetable for your child’s summer holidays?

1. Balance fun and learning: The fundamental rule to follow is not have too many rules, Sonia reiterates. “During the holidays, there is no correct ratio of fun versus chores and your child’s routine should be structured in such a way that I works for your family.”

Provide your child with opportunities to engage in their favourite hobbies and pastimes and permit them additional downtime and playtime. It allows for spontaneity and creativity. In Nihla’s household this translates to one-hour outdoor session of cricket and football with friends. She avoids a hard-and-fast timetable during summer and just ensures there are enough compulsory chores and activities to provide the kids’ weekdays with structure. “Their weekends are their very own to do as they please and I don’t interfere.”

2. Collaborate not dictate: Including them in developing and setting up their calendar is vital to keep them motivated, Sonya says. For Nihla this approach has helped foster trust and a sense of responsibility with her kids. “I pick one activity or summer class that I want them to be enrolled in, such as swimming or religious lessons. Even this is open to discussion and they have the freedom to refuse if it’s something they really dislike or are disinclined to do. An interactive process where both the parent and child communicate and decide on the best course of action is always more likely to yield better results.”

3. Include family time: Amidst all of the activities and assignments, don’t forget that a summer break is about children clocking in quality time with the most important people in their life – their parents. Traditional holidays and family trips might be out of the running this year, but there’s still things you can do. “Encourage children to take a break from screen time and online games and incorporate more traditional family activities such as puzzles, board games, arts and crafts, cooking and sports into their routine,” suggests Sonia. Nihla’s sons play football with their dad, voluntarily join her in the kitchen to bake and cook, and the family has regular movie nights.

4. Actions have consequences: Set priorities and be clear about the consequences of not completing tasks, says Sonia. Alternatively, do implement a reward system for staying on schedule and provide plenty of positive reinforcement and praise, she reminds. Nihla explains to her sons the reasons why she expects them to take ownership of chores such as making their beds. “When they understood that each member of a family has to contribute to its smooth running, they willingly pitch in as they feel responsible.” Give older children the opportunity to be “in charge” of a meal or activity once a week, adds Sonia.

5. Use colour and fun to get their attention: For younger children with fleeting attention spans and willpower, make the calendars or to-do lists colourful and exciting, Sonia advises. “Use fun and humour during transitions, such as funny songs to be played as a timer.”

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