For a start, I like to make a point of reframing the language around the summer holidays. I totally understand that those practical issues of child care can cause stress levels to rise as grannies, grandpas and willing friends are roped in to pick up the slack. But when I look back to my own childhood, it was the summer holidays when some of my best memories were forged. It’s for that reason that I would love parents to have a start point of viewing them with a sense of optimism and opportunity. To see them as a time when the shackles of routine can be loosened a little and, though traditional academic learning has reached its hiatus for the year, a time when children and their parents can indulge in enriching experiences that bond them closer together and forge lifelong memories for both.
Have a plan
I’m all for spontaneity, but I think it’s important to start the holidays with a plan. Anything that opens up conversation between parent and child has got to be a good thing, so sitting down with your kids and exploring the options will help to retain a sense of control and manage expectations. It will force them to think about what they want to do with their newly acquired free time and give you the opportunity to fulfil some of their wishes, while at the same time ruling out others.
By doing this, all parties know where they stand and what to expect. Planning together is always more productive than imposing your ideas on others as it means both parties buy into it.
Give them time to adjust
It’s worth bearing in mind that school aged children, particularly those aged between five and 12, often find the first week of the holidays quite challenging. Kids are so used to the routine of school and once that routine is taken away, they sometimes find it difficult to adjust. Their days are normally filled from bell to bell and going from full timetables to nothing can set them up to cry out with a ‘bored’, expecting parents to fill the void. Be mindful and try and create a good balance in that first week of quality time spent with yourself or other trusted adults and time to themselves. I genuinely believe it’s good for kids to experience boredom sometimes; it fires up the imagination and makes them more able to draw on their own reserves of motivation, but it’s wise to ease them into the holidays with a mixture of activities and downtime, so you avoid that constant pestering that drives stress levels through the roof!
The power of tech breaks
The greatest gift you can give your child is quality time. It doesn’t always have to be with a parent; but making sure your child spends time socialising and enjoying the innocent and carefree joys of childhood will pay great dividends for the future. All too often these days, children are glued to devices that take them away from the real world and while games and other technological entertainments have their place, they can’t replace quality human interaction. Enjoying the great outdoors, playing family games, spending time with grandparents, visiting fun museums, play dates, kids’ clubs – there is so much life enhancing experience out there, so make sure your kids can tap into it while they have the chance.
Become the teacher
Learning is not confined to school and that’s why I love the summer holidays. It gives parents the chance to get stuck in to some more unconventional, but equally valid, learning for life. You are, and will remain, your child’s first teacher. They look to you for guidance, skills and to give them an understanding of how the world works so they can take their place in it as responsible adults. I like to empower parents to own this role.
Teaching your kids through experiences and through hands-on practical demonstration is some of the most powerful learning they’ll ever receive. Whether it be teaching them how to cook, learning something new together, visiting somewhere new or working on a project together, all positive experience is productive. The key word here is ‘together’. It helps tighten those bonds and it doesn’t require a lot of time, but just the will to build it in. Learning opportunities abound – from repeatedly counting or exploring the alphabet with a toddler as you go about your daily tasks, to planning and cooking a meal with your teen. Imparting knowledge to the next generation is one of the great privileges of parenthood, so use this time to make the most of it.
Don’t forget the ‘Me’
It’s not all about the kids! While holidays can throw up some great opportunities for children to enjoy themselves, it’s vital to remember parents need time too. When making your plan at the start be very clear with your children that you are going to set aside some time for yourselves. Share the load with other parents in your friendship groups so they have your kids for the day, and repay them by having theirs. Ask grandparents too and give older children some responsibility at times for (safely) entertaining younger ones. You don’t have to spend all your time with your kids and you don’t have to feel guilty about that.
Hold the line
Finally, while the holidays are a chance to spend some carefree time with your children, it’s still important to have high expectations of them. Without the routine of the school day to work to, you might need to revisit your set of family rules and expectations. The holidays can be a time to let some things slide a little, but not if you end up in an endless round of cleaning up after your kids or having to intervene in sibling squabbles. So, when making your plans, also make it very clear what you expect your children to do and how you expect them to behave. If it becomes challenging, then try to stay calm, count to 10 and see it as an opportunity to refresh their memories about where the lines are not to be crossed. Do this consistently from the start and they’ll learn a valuable lesson about co-existence along the way.
Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based life coach, author and hypnotherapist.