The end of the school year and the onset of school holidays mean different things to different people. For some of us there may be a welcome respite from the demands of the school term schedule. For others school holidays may represent a scheduling nightmare as you juggle childcare arrangements with summer activities and work. End of term may equal end of routines and your usual order. You may have to be finding ad hoc solutions to your children’s needs which takes energy and may bring with it new anxieties.
If you’re having one of those reactions spare a minute to think how children respond to disruption in routines. Like us, some will be relieved and some will be feeling anxious. Most children absolutely thrive on structure and routine but some will find school brings with it stresses and they welcome the break from that. Some children have very regular temperaments; they like a schedule and they want to know exactly what’s going to happen today. Others can just go with the flow. Many children benefit from having less structured time to just chill and use their imaginations. Some have lost the knack of entertaining themselves.
So in planning the school holidays as parents we need to factor in many different things:
- Our own work commitments and ability to take holiday time
- Child care arrangements
- The benefit of organised activities vs unstructured time
- Our individual child’s temperament and school experience
Phew! The parental juggling act!
Whatever your individual holiday arrangements look like you will greatly benefit from rules and routines. These may look very different from the term time routines and they may vary throughout the holiday period but it will help to have some routines.
- Even easy-going children benefit from the predictability provided by routines. Having clarity and consistency helps kids feel secure. They know what’s expected of them and feel less stressed. Less adaptable children need them even more.
- When the ground rules are in place less time is spent arguing and more time on more enriching or enjoyable activities.
- Having rules for the holiday period makes it easier to transition back into school mode in September.
- School holidays can be a great time to set up new routines as there’s usually less rushing around.
What do you need rules about?
Well that’s up to each individual family but if an area of family life isn’t going very smoothly currently it’s usually a sign that a rule is missing (or not being upheld). You will probably still want to have rules for the following areas even if they’re different from term-time rules:
- Bedtimes (Not too different from term times)
- Personal hygiene (Probably the same as term times)
- Screen usage (May be more but should probably still be regulated)
- Meals/food. (You may have quite specific rules about how often you’ll have ice creams or whether occasional foods are going to feature more in their diets than in term time.)
- Use of own possessions or shared resources
- Playdates/interacting with other children on shared holidays. (If you’re going on holidays with another family it’s worth having a conversation with the other parents beforehand about your expectations of the children’s behaviour.)
What makes a good rule? Ask yourself:
- Is the rule necessary or desirable for health or safety or for family harmony or to set up good habits for life?
- Is it appropriate/achievable for this child? Eg requiring a 3 year old to sit still and quietly at the table in a restaurant for hours on end might be unreasonable.
- Does the rule apply to everyone? Eg We leave devices behind when coming to the table.
- Is the rule expressed positively? Eg “take shoes off when coming inside”, not “don’t wear shoes inside”.
- Has the child had any input into the rule? It will work a lot better if you explain what your values are and then ask the child what they think should happen in a given area. Eg In our family we know that getting a good night’s sleep is important so that we can perform well and be in a good mood during the day. Adults need about 8 hours sleep and children your age need about 10/11 hours. So what time should the grownups go to bed? And what about the kids?
Below are some examples of family rules. These have been illustrated and signed by the children which gives them ownership over them.
How will you uphold your rules?
- Try to notice when kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and comment on this more than when the rules are broken. It becomes a lot easier to notice the good stuff if you write down some of your rules. Children will often give up on what they want to do and do what you want when there is a strong incentive. I don’t mean bribes! They already have a natural instinct to do what wins them your attention and approval so make sure you give them lots of positive attention.
- If they’re not following the rules ask yourself why not? Is the problem with the rule itself? If not, it may be that the child knows what the rule is but acted on a competing impulse. It may be the child is feeling rebellious. Why? Do they feel over-controlled? Do they not get much say in their own lives? Can you give them more choices? They may not have a choice about whether something happens but have input into the how, when and where of it. So teeth still have to be brushed but maybe in the kitchen rather than the bathroom or maybe with accompanying music or at the same time as you or after getting dressed. Let them have control wherever you can.
- Empathise that some things they have to do feel difficult or tedious or they’d rather do something else. Showing you understand often clears the way to better behaviour.
Rules are necessary but they are a blunt instrument and they won’t work without relationship. Your children will be motivated to do what you ask if you spend as much positive time with them as you can and they know you value them and you understand them.
Have a great summer holiday.