It's August again, and the summer holidays have kicked off in earnest. For some people, the holidays are just a time to relax. For parents though, particularly of young children, relaxation can be hard to find. With the kids at home for the holidays, it can be difficult for the stay-at-home parent to survive, let alone relax.
For those of you who know what I'm talking about, I've put together my top tips to survive the summer holidays, from my own experience (and that of the missus of course!). I also asked a few friends. I hope this is useful to you.
1. Plan each week in advance
During the weekend, sit around with your better half, and make a plan of what the kids will be doing all week. Make sure you've got all the days covered. It's a funny thing, but just making a plan can help relieve the stress of the forthcoming week. It also gives an opportunity to prepare bits and pieces in advance (e.g. buy bathing suits), so that all the activities go smoothly.
One additional idea for the week plan, is to have an "end of week reward" for the kids, conditional on them being cooperative with the parents during the week (i.e. “be a good boy Mon to Thurs, and Friday I'll take you to...”).
Some possible reward examples might be:
a. The beach/pool
b. That big park/playground they love
c. Their favourite restaurant
2. Get the kids to work/study/learn
In order to go to the places they want to go, the children can be asked to do a little bit of work or study. How much time they spend is up to you to decide, however, anything from 10 minutes to 1 hour should be ok (depending on their age and activity).
a. Reading and/or maths
b. Making their beds, tidying their rooms
c. Gardening, cutting the grass
d. Washing the car
Generally, these things should be things they don't mind doing too much. Asking them to do something they absolutely hate can backfire, and should be avoided. You can decide what rewards they get, be that the outing at the end of the week, or possible smaller prizes (e.g. “TV/iPad time” in the evening or just some cash to do as they please).
3. Set guidelines for TV/PlayStation/iPad use
There are several ways to go about this. In almost all cases, I (and my better half) have found that it helps the day go smoothly if you tie it to good behaviour. So, here are some options:
a. They can play/watch starting at a given time (preferably in the afternoon, after they have earned it). This can be a set time each day (e.g. 4 pm onwards), and even for a set time every day (e.g. for 2 hours only starting at 4 pm).
b. You can also arrange for “tech free” days. E.g. No tech allowed on Mon/Wed/Fri. Behaviour must be good on these days, so that they can tech on Tue/Thur/Sat. In these circumstances though, note that it'll be harder to limit the use to just 1 or 2 hours.
c. You can combine points A and B above, as you see fit, or even have this as a prize for something (e.g. as mentioned in Point 1).
I.e. “if you're good all week, you can tech till you drop on Friday.”
4. Set Up A Morning Routine
A friend of ours mentioned that it helps if the kids have a morning routine. Once awake, the kids should get dressed, make their beds, brush their teeth etc. It helps even more apparently, if this routine starts at the same time each morning. Then comes breakfast, and a walk. We have not tried this one, but it does make sense that the day will start with some more order. Finally, it's always good to leave the house, even if just for a walk, just to get the juices flowing.
5. Set up a "friend exchange" program
Another idea is to have a good friend come over all day on some day (e.g. possibly as a Friday reward), and send your child over to theirs on another day (e.g. the following Friday). If you want a free day all to yourselves, get all the friends to come over whenever (if you have more than one child), and send them all back on one single day.
Obviously, the logistics of this last suggestion might be prohibitive (e.g. maybe you can't coordinate with the other families as would best suit you), but it can be worth a shot. Clearly, if you have lots of children (e.g. 4), then it's likely to get quite complicated.
6. Activity Day Camps
For kids that love a particular activity, there are summer “day camps” which take up big parts of the day for almost everything.
These include things like:
a. Sports, including football, tennis, karate, swimming etc
b. Music camps (e.g. band camp)
c. Language camps
d. Computer/technology camps
e. Arts camps (e.g. painting, acting, fashion)
f. Social traditional "camping camps" that just do a little bit of everything
Of course, where your child can go will depend on where you live, and there's almost certainly a cost involved, but it can definitely be worth checking what's near you. Some children can be quite shy and apprehensive about going, but again, it's probably worth a shot.
7. Spend Time With The Kids
The truth is that the kids love you (even if they have trouble expressing it at times). You can arrange to do things with the kids, which they can choose, but which are interactive (as opposed to watching TV). With a little bit of imagination, you can find things to do both indoors and outdoors. Some indoor examples might include playing cards, board games and charades. Outdoor activities can include playing in the garden, going on walks/hikes and a variety of “sporty” activities (e.g. playing catch).
Of course, many parents work, and some get home late. In that case, you can try to take some afternoons off. Many companies actually prefer their employees taking part-days off instead of full days. So, instead of 2 weeks full time, you can take 4 weeks just the afternoons (though you clearly, must consider your needs too when taking such a decision! The parents need a break too!).
Regardless of whether it's possible for you to take the afternoons off or not, often it is possible, with some imaginative thinking, to work things out in a way so you can be at home at “better” times. Sit down, have a think, maybe ask the better half (they normally have the answers! ;-), and you'll come up with something!
Now clearly, not everything is applicable to everyone. I'll be very surprised if anyone manages to do all the above! However, as a general rule, what does work is spending some time thinking about your situation, and seeing how you can adapt it to make your own life (with the kids), that little bit smoother!
If you do that, and you're still stuck, well, get in touch, either via the website or twitter (@parentbear), and we'll have a brainstorming session to help you out! :-)
No matter what you're doing though, have a great summer!