Managing school holidays with children

As a kid, I vividly remember the lead up to Christmas vacation and January holidays as being hectic chaos.

Mum enlisted everyone in being frenetic and obsessed about cleaning and getting everything just perfectly right. Not a speck of dust or unpolished silver or glassware was to be found anywhere. It was supposed to be a wonderful time, but so much tension and drama seemed to surround getting ready for visitors and festive functions that we really needed the first week of January to recover.

Winding down steadily

I really prefer the idea of preparing for the festive season and extended vacation as similar to preparing for a brief retirement – taking it easy and reducing the workload, so that one can truly enjoy doing nothing much at all.

As such, winding down steadily and beginning the vacation period in a relaxed, settled state is the aim. There is no doubt we all love family vacations and extended time off, but preparing to spend this time pays dividends. In our hectic lifestyles, to be mentally fit, we need to truly wind down and relax to recover from stress, pressure and increasing demands of the year.

Vacations allow such beneficial time to relax, spend family time together and most of all for kids to enjoy just being kids. They are critical for mental health. As humans, we cannot maintain constant pressure and neither can kids.

Often depression, anxiety or behaviour outbursts are the result of trying to fight against stress and hectic schedules for too long. Thus, extended holidays are essential for families to relax, build connections and have fun experiences together. Better still, approaching vacations calmly and in a relaxed state adds great benefits and leads to truly fun times.    

Taking charge of winding down

As a family, you need to take charge of winding down, by following several essential steps. The first is surviving ‘end of termitis’ – the huge demands at the end of school term – such as the extra demands of Christmas concerts, school performances, awards nights and other late social nights, when toddlers and kids are already very fatigued and overwhelmed and tired by the end of term.

It is important not to over commit and try to curb the number of late nights. Kids may have to attend school concert nights, but it can be wiser to avoid lots of invitations to other events or festive nights. Alternatively, making sure that kids sleep in on weekends and catch up, wherever possible, is beneficial to beginning vacations in a more relaxed state. 

Perfectionism can also be a potential problem as your family heads into the holiday season. Often families like having everything done for festive occasions, such as a Christmas Day dinner or New Year celebrations, but sometimes too much effort and precision goes into such events.

Regrettably, I hear too often from distressed families that the lead up was far too stressful or that mums especially didn’t enjoy it, as there was so much pressure on everything being perfect.

If your past festive dinners have been too stressful, choose to be different this year and give up on trying to be perfect. According to the old saying, ‘…words will never hurt me… ‘ so choose to disregard any critical relatives’ comments, in favour of knowing you are beginning vacations in a more relaxed manner.

If you fall into the trap of doing it all yourself, as ‘only you can do it perfectly’, you need to relax your own standards slightly and get the whole family involved. Set up some chores that everyone can help with, and some extra pocket money that they can earn for vacation spending.

Preparing for vacations

Getting ready for vacations can also help. Great family time can be spent in discussing what activities or fun you might pursue as a family. Half the fun of holidays is the anticipation.

Try to avoid leaving it all to the last minute though. Involving all the family in preparing and packing can avoid chaos and calamity. Everyone can have a role in getting their things ready or making sure all is prepared. This also helps to teach kids great skills in independence.

If it is looking like all is going to be too rushed, then strongly consider delaying departure for a day. So many families are hectic right up to Christmas, then madly head out Boxing Day, only to arrive at the holiday destination stressed out and agitated, which too often sets a bad trend for the vacation.

We may be better teaching kids the valuable lesson of slowing down, relaxing and enjoying life, rather than griping about the mad rushed schedule, but still actually being a part of it.       

Once families arrive at vacation time, it is important to really wind down, relax and enjoy each other’s company. Try to avoid over committing early. Sometimes it is better to say no, for the family’s sake, rather than feeling you have to meet everyone’s demands.

Increasingly, kids are presenting as stressed and anxious, often as a result of being hot-housed, over-scheduled or too competitive. These kids rarely have time to just be kids. It might seem like a simple concept, but just being a kid allows for extended play that is free and unstructured.

Recent research has shown that kids are losing the art of being creative, have problem solving skills, and are unable to entertain themselves. Talking about fun, family activities, such as simply going for bike rides, playing board games, playing backyard cricket or playing outside, have unlimited benefits.

Planning for a more unstructured, free vacation sounds a contradiction in terms. However, it means planning as a family to have free time, to talk, wander and discover.

An important thought is to recall what you remember about January vacations. Were they great, relaxed times of discovery, family fun and enjoyment? Or were they tinged with rushed schedules or hectic times?

My hope has been that vacations allowed my kids to just be kids more than any other time in their life. Nothing better than seeing the kids outside, relaxed, having fun and just being kids.    

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