School holidays have always been a stressful time when we have children. In Britain there are a number of holidays throughout the year. October half-term: two weeks at Christmas: a week in February; two weeks at Easter-time and a week in May. While these can seem challenging, especially if the weather is not too good, these pale in comparison to the challenges of the six week long summer holiday starting in late July and finishing in early September. While there have been plans murmured for years now about breaking these six weeks down to three or four and adding the remainder to other holidays – love it or loathe it, the six week long summer holiday is still here with us.
I’m sure that we are all aware of the stresses that having our children -or even a relative or friends children- at home over the summer can cause. While for most people the experience of sharing this valuable time is a positive one and well worth the effort – even so, there are times when this shared time really can become all too stressful. Below are a few techniques for getting through these enjoyable but testing times. While this article has an emphasis towards the summer holiday these techniques can nevertheless be used for any holiday or even a weekend for that matter.
I should also point out that most of these techniques are aimed at younger children and maybe very young teenagers. While some techniques can also be applied to young adults in their teenage years, the nature of teenagers means that different advice applies and this is something that I will cover in a later article. Some of my recommendation are as follows:
PLAN AHEAD BEFORE THE SUMMER HOLIDAY BEGINS – This enables us to best plan our time but also our finances for the summer. This can be done by ourselves looking at our diary and finances to get some idea of how much time we have and how much money we have to spend. This can also be done with our partners -if we have them- and even more important it can be a good idea to speak to the children, to go through what they want to do in their holiday and factor this into the time and personal finances that we have available.
TRY AND SPACE-OUT THE MORE EXPENSIVE ACTIVITIES THROUGHOUT THE HOLIDAY – I’m not going to state the obvious here about the costs of many activities throughout the summer holiday, especially those indoor activities such as the cinema, shopping, and eating out – often the things than children want to do most of all and the most expensive. For both cost effectiveness but especially for keeping us calm, it is a good idea to try and space these more costly but popular activities throughout the whole six weeks – maybe doing one expensive activity per week. Although it is tempting to do all of these things at the beginning of the holiday, especially if we are being constantly pestered; by spreading these over the whole six weeks we can give ourselves more time to save-up for these but also having things for the children to look forward to on days when, for whatever reason, it is simply not possible do to do these.
TRY AND ALLOW CHILDREN TO HAVE AS MUCH EXERCISE AS POSSIBLE – Here’s something that is always a point that is easy to say but difficult to do in reality. Without stating the obvious, the more exercise children get during the day they will, firstly be healthier and secondly, should want to go to bed earlier on a night – especially for younger children. This is a different situation altogether with teenagers. For younger children though, the more exercise they get during the day, the likelihood is that they will want to go to bed earlier at night, or even if this is not the case, they will most likely have tired themselves out and are quieter in the late evening. This in turn ensures that we get a good night sleep and are happier and healthier for this. While outdoor exercise is not practical in wet conditions, inventions such as interactive body movement computer games mean that indoor activity can also use energy. For outdoor exercise, apart from the garden -if we have one- going for a walk in the local park or countryside is excellent exercise and enjoyable.
TRY AND HAVE A ROUTINE THROUGHOUT THE HOLIDAY – While nobody wants to get up at the crack of dawn during the holidays and feeling as if they are in a school morning routine, having some type of routine throughout the holiday can be extremely helpful. Though it can often be fun to get out of any sort of routine for the first two or three days of the holiday, having no routine at all can cause a great many problems. Without any routine we may feel that we are sleeping in all through the morning, not getting anything completed and then having difficulty sleeping at night – thus the cycle repeats over and over throughout the holiday. Again especially so for younger children, getting up early say for instance 8.30am instead of 7am on a normal school-day and being out of the house by 10.00-10.30am if we have plans, ensures that while we are not in a school routine, we still have some kind of routine and can get out of the house in reasonable time to do all of the activities needed. This also helps to avoid one of the greatest stresses of the holiday where everything is left until the last minute and consequently a major rush happens with the stresses that come with this.
TRY TO ENSURE THAT THERE IS AN ADULT SUPERVISING YOUNGER CHILDREN AT ALL TIMES – Leading on from my previous point about the importance of a routine, an adult should always be supervising, or for slightly older children should be within reach if any incidents occur. Apart from being essential for safety, the presence of an adult, even if they are in the garden or in another part of town -if out and about- can help regulate children’s behaviour. Even with the best well behaved children they can become rather excitable and not so well behaved if they are in a group. In many ways, naturally a group involves individual children having to compete to be heard by shouting or getting attention and respect some other way, which of course can lead to bad behaviour or even rowdiness. With a parent in the vicinity and able to be present if this rowdiness or behaviour gets increasingly out of control, can (a) activity regulate this behaviour and (b) can also stop our children, or children in our personal care, getting into trouble and ourselves having to deal with the unpleasant consequences of this.
TRY TO MAINTAIN A GOOD HEALTY DIET – Even more than on schooldays where the temptation of food is not too great for our children during lesson times, being at home all day or in places such as a cinema where there are lots of unhealthy foods on offer, raises the temptation to eat unhealthy food. While treats are of no harm at all in moderation, having these every day, especially throughout a holiday when our children may be getting less exercise than usual, can have consequences for their health – from damaging teeth to causing weight gain. Equally with this, an e-number laden diet, such as fizzy carbonated drinks and artificially flavoured sweets, can also have the added and unwelcome impact of causing a great energy rush and hyperactivity. This would be especially unwelcome in situations where it is not possible for the children to burn the energy off such as on a wet day or late at night. I apologise for stating the blindingly obvious here, but avoiding these foods in large quantities regularly and late at night will help avoid these unwanted effects. Of course if children are burning-off lots of energy, and indeed to simply avoid snacking on less healthy foods, we should try and ensure that they eat three meals a day – a good hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner not too late at night.
NURTURE ANY NEW INTERESTS THAT DEVELOP AND BE ENCOURAGING WITH HOBBIES AND INTERESTS – Not only is the summer about what parents can do for their children but also this valuable time is an opportunity for children to find out for themselves hobbies and personal interests. Parents should fully ensure that we encourage our children to develop upon these interests not only for their own personal enjoyment and intelligence but also -in the context of this article- a child that has a greater number of interests and is able to entertain themselves will mean that the parents will have a far more relaxing time and are thus less stressed. Indeed children need mental as well as physical exercise!
TRY AND BUY ‘BACK TO SCHOOL’ ITEMS ESPECIALLY UNIFORM AT THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLIDAY – Not really a secret this technique, but one that most people seem to forget or can’t get their children to do this. Probably a combination of these! From my own school days I remember nothing worse than breaking-up for the summer holidays and seeing adverts on the television advertising ‘back to school’ items, notably the dreaded school uniform. Even worse however was the shopping visit to buy it, struggling through the crowds of other shoppers in the last week of the summer holiday! While this suggestion will definitely raise the ire of our children, if possible, it is a good idea to buy the school uniform and any other items at the beginning or middle of the holiday – anytime just not that last week. After much protestation to this, actually going and getting the uniform early will make the whole shopping experience easier and less stressed as there will probably be very few other shoppers around. This will give our children the feeling of having done this horrible chore and have the rest of the holiday to enjoy – and of course parents not having to get stressed with them during the last week!
As I said earlier, the majority of these techniques are aimed at younger pre-teenage children. Though some of this advice can also be helpful for teenagers, a forthcoming article will look into more detail at managing stress during these years.
It may be the case that not all of these suggestions work for everyone and certain suggestions used in conjunction may work better for some people while another set work better for others. My advice here is that these simple suggestions should really be used as a guideline and can be combined with other techniques that I have not discussed here. It is really of case of using what works best for each of us. Nevertheless, following these techniques should help to ensure a less stressed and more enjoyable holiday for both children and parents.
Martin Hogg is an Anger Management Specialist and founder of Citizen Coaching CIC, a Social Enterprise based in Birmingham, UK http://www.CitizenCoaching.com
We provide a unique, tailored anger management approach through live workshops, one to one support and through online and home study. Get Martin’s First Steps In Anger Management for free at