The school summer holidays are soon to be upon us! Whether you’re with your children for part, or all of the holiday, there’s a big shift in pace away from the structure and routine of school life. Freedom and possibilities are the flavour of the month. There may be daydreams of blue skies and wide open spaces; idyllic scenes where Maria Von Trapp meets Mary Poppins and the sound of children’s laughter dances on the breeze with the scent of edelweiss and the doh re mi of birdsong.
More realistically, you may be wondering how to fill the weeks ahead, deal with the cries of ‘I’m bored’, or ‘I’m hungry’ and hold onto your sanity. Here then, are our top ten summer holiday tips.
1. Hold a family meeting
Ask your children what things they’d like to do, or achieve, during the summer holidays. Children love to be involved in discussions and to have their opinions heard. Involving them in planning holiday activities shows them that you value their views and opinions. You could take this a step further, getting them to make a chart or a picture of activities, which you can then return to at a later date, to tick off all the things they’ve done. Children thrive on feeling a sense of achievement, and this is also a way of acknowledging the time you’ve spent together.
It can be helpful to be clear about things like television or internet usage from the outset of the holidays. If it’s age appropriate, discuss and agree length and times of usage with your children. Set the boundaries, and then stick to them. Clear boundaries provide a framework to play within, and if children are involved in setting the boundaries, there’s less room for complaint further down the line!
Not making packed lunches or doing the school run feels great to begin with, but it doesn’t take long for everyone’s need for structure to kick in again.
Plan some trips and visits with family and friends, or pencil some of the activities you decided on into the calendar. Having some pre-planned activities means that you can have some sense of structure, as the weeks unfold in front of you. For example, Monday might be a free day, Tuesday a day to go to the library, and catch up with school friends.
4. Be wary of the ‘shoulds’.
Now we’ve made some plans and decided on our holiday boundaries, let’s rip up some of the old rules and make life even easier.
Not setting the alarm clock and lazing around in pyjamas half the morning can be great, but be wary of the internal voice which tells you ‘I should do this’ (get the washing on)… or ‘I should do that’ (tidy the front room).
When you hear the word ‘should’, it’s a clear sign that you’re operating from the part of your psyche that’s responsible for regulation and control. This is the part of us which gives us social control and stops us making social faux pas – for example, ‘don’t burp at the dinner table’. In transactional analysis, we call this the Parent ego state, because of the similarities to the role of a parent.
Whilst the Parent part of us is very useful, he/she can also be very restrictive and unhelpful because he/she is working on information you learnt in the past – not summer holiday 2014 reality.
So, next time you hear a ‘should’, ask yourself whether you really do need to do that particular task at this moment in time, or whether you might actually prefer to do it later. If this feels difficult, you could try picking just one small task at a time… be careful though, this can be a very liberating experience!
5. Let your Child out
Now you’ve packed your Parent ego state off on holiday, your inner Child can come out to play. This is the part of you which loves to laugh, have fun, be creative and spontaneous… so go and get messy! Make potato print pictures, build a den, bury dad in the sand, climb a tree, fly a kite – whatever it is your inner child feels like doing, go and have fun! Not only will you enjoy the feeling of freedom, your children will love you for it. These are our real life Julie Andrews moments; the things lasting childhood memories are made of.
6. Set your children to work
Now you’ve cut yourself some slack with the chores, you might want to think about how the children could help out. Children love to know they’re helpful and effective; it’s empowering and helps develop their self esteem. Giving them age appropriate chores is a great opportunity to build confidence in their capabilities, and a chance for you to lavish them with praise (strokes) for their efforts.
7. Give strokes
A stroke is a term used in transactional analysis to describe recognition between two people. Strokes can be verbal, such as ‘good morning’, or physical, for example a hug. Strokes can be positive (‘well done’), or negative (‘you messed that up’).
Children (and grown-ups) thrive on positive strokes, yet historically our society has not been taught to be generous with strokes, often adopting a less than demonstrative manner.
As important as it is to acknowledge successes and achievements, it’s equally important that our children learn to value themselves for being just that: themselves.
So stroke your children for being themselves, not just for doing things, for example ‘I love the way you smile’. And while you’re at it, stroke yourself for being fabulous too.
8. Make some time for yourself – and hold onto it
Even if it’s just a ten minute break to put your feet up and have a cup of tea, make it clear that this is what you’re doing, that you’re unavailable to do anything else during those ten minutes… then stick to it. This models good self-care to your children: parents have needs too, and it’s important that those needs are met.
It might sound obvious, but when things do get difficult, bring your attention back to your body. This is like the proverbial counting to ten before speaking; by bringing your attention back to your body and becoming aware of your breathing, you bring your full attention to your present state, and are less likely to be coming from an archaic Child or Parent place. This in turn means you are using all your current resources and thinking capacity, and are able to deal with the situation more effectively.
10.Give yourself a break
Watch out for the critical voice of your Parent. This is the internal voice that tells you you’re not good enough, or that you’re not getting things right. Have some compassion for this voice, it means well; it kept you safe once. Unfortunately this voice can be a one trick pony, particularly when we’re tired and stressed.
When you do feel tired or stressed, then take a step back and stop. Name how you’re feeling; again, by doing this you’re modelling good self care to your children. Treat yourself with as much compassion as you do your children; you’re only human (unless your name is Julie Andrews).