By Ariella Lew, Bsc ( Paediatric Nursing)
The Summer holidays are here, a thought which often invokes a mix of emotions for many parents. While school holidays ‘should be’ synonymous with relaxation and a slower pace of life, the reality is that sometimes it is not. The theory is that several weeks of possibilities lie ahead and the door is wide open for exciting adventures and new experiences for the whole family. The reality however is often somewhat different. Children seem to be desperate for both excitement and downtime in equal measure and parents are often clinging to whatever routine they can while trying to juggle splitting their time between all the pressures, expectations and responsibilities of that accompany the school holiday period.
The specific pressures may differ from family to family but some of the solutions to alleviate these stresses can be used in a multitude of circumstances. No matter what your family dynamic is, how many children you have or what their individual needs may be, these tips aim to help you not only survive these school holidays but enjoy them as well!
1) It’s All In the Planning
When we think of the holidays, it is easy to feel overwhelmed at the stretch of time that lies ahead and how much has to be taken into consideration. One idea to help the task feel less daunting is to create a visual schedule of the time and draw in the things you know. One way to do this is to get yourself a big piece of paper and draw out a calendar for the holiday period. Designate a different colour to each family member (including parents!) and begin to write in what is planned for each day. This calendar should include everyone’s activities – work for parents, day camps, play dates and trips away. Once the calendar is written it is easier to visualise what needs to be organised and you can then write your to do list eg: which days you need to arrange additional childcare.
2) Utilise Your Support Systems
A significant challenge for many families is creating equal time for all kids, no matter their needs. As parents you will know better than anyone which of your children need what from you and when. A demanding child or a newborn can provide additional challenges. Don’t be afraid to utilise support systems you have during the school holidays. Whether you have extended family, a network of friends to share the load, access to paid school holiday activities, or resources to pay a babysitter, don’t feel bad reaching out and asking for help. Asking a friend to have your child over for an afternoon, and your mother in law to have the other, can create the much needed time to spend with child #3. Building a support system that you trust, whether its unpaid or paid, is invaluable. Booking children in a holiday program is also a fantastic option to create time for another child.
3) Making time for 1 on 1
Kids need 15-20 minutes a day of quality one on one time with their parent or carer every day. This time allows them to feel calm and settled and is an opportunity for them to feel that they are an individual and not simply a family member that always has to share attention. Setting this target takes some of the stress away, as you can begin to plan how to make this happen. It is important to remember that the Mum is not the only adult that can provide a child with this much needed daily one on one time. A Dad, a grandparent, an aunt or a carer can also step in over the holiday period to help ensure that each child gets the positive attention that they need. The one on one time also does not need to be something that involves spending money. Sitting to build lego with your child or doing a baking activity together is just as meaningful. One way to build in this 1 to 1 time is to try staggering daily routine activities eg: bath time or story time before bed. If bath time usually means all 3 kids are in the bath at once for 45 minutes, try giving the kids a bath one at a time, with the other 2 watching a show or entertaining themselves with toys or games while you spend some uninterrupted time with each child. Other opportunities to fit 1 on 1 time in to a busy day is to involve 1 child in dinner preparation while the others play, creating special time with this child, or reading a bed time story to one child on their own, while the others are distracted with a bed time show, for example.
4) Creating Structure Around Free Play
One of the biggest frustrations for parents during school holidays is that their children can’t be left playing together for long without fighting. One way to combat this is to design and organise structured activities for some of the time that your children are at home. One example could be a craft project and each child is given their own ‘set’ of equipment eg: paints to use. This can prevent fighting, as conflict between siblings is often triggered by their inability to share. If you can not be there to supervise the kids while playing, for example, while you are spending time with Child A, setting them up with separate activities can also work well for children who don’t yet have the social skills to negotiate playing together for longer periods of time. Eg: One child can be outside on the trampoline and the other can be in their bedroom with their dolls.
5) Down Time and Date Nights
Although during the school holidays, children are in general less routined and structured, it is still important that they have some time to relax. This can be screen time or free play outside doing something they enjoy. This should be a time when they are allowed to be themselves and do what they want without any demands put on them and this in turn allows them to fully relax. This way, the holidays can allow them to recharge their batteries for a new school year. In the meantime, for lots of parents, the holidays are a time when the juggle means that even a simple conversation takes more energy than either of you have! It can be a great idea during the holidays to plan a date night every so often in order to regroup and reconnect so that you can be the best parents you can be!
School holidays are tough – and the juggle is real. Managing multiple children’s needs day in and day out for more than a few days at a time is a struggle for most parents. Calling on support systems, planning ahead as much as possible, paying attention to each child’s need for one on one time and being kind to yourself in adjusting expectations, are all strategies that can help to get your family through the holiday period.
Ariella Lew, Bsc (Paediatric Nursing) is the founder of Kids on Track Consultancy in Melbourne: for more info www.kidsontrackconsultancy.com | Tel: 0429 222 670