This is a fabulous article from the Daily Telegraph.
The long summer vacation is often greeted with mixed feelings. While we love having our children home, months of unstructured and unproductive free time can be a frustrating spectacle, often resulting in bad behaviour and high stress levels. Children are demob happy at the end of exam season but it can feel as if the pressure and anxiety they’ve been under shifts on to parents.
Finding a way to use the holidays so that children can relax but also learn some important life skills will ease the tension. Here are 10 ways to not only survive the next three months but also to have a positive influence on the adult your child will become:
1 Aim for a ‘Holiday Plan’: How parents approach incendiary topics like bedtime, getting up, helping around the house and screen usage is key. We learnt to Do As You Are Told, but our children have been taught to have opinions/views, argue/debate, weigh up and decide, so it’s best to tackle The Plan with a “Can we talk through how things are going to work this summer?” approach.
Not only does this encourage collaboration, decision making and team playing, but once you have got your mutually agreed plan in place (which may include “No lectures or nagging please, Mum”), it is easier to stick to it. Being irritated by a child’s lack of helpfulness is contagious and damages the home atmosphere. If you’ve made a plan you can say, “I’m cross because it is lunchtime, you’re still in bed and we agreed…”; “You and I had an agreement about computer time…”; “I thought you said three beers.”
2 Get a structure in place: After they have had an appropriate, well-deserved rest and some post-exam lie-ins, aim to get a framework in place before the holiday kicks off. Some structure to the routine at home and some mutually agreed rules will improve the emotional climate and everyone’s behaviour. Whatever you agree (breakfast done and dusted by midday? Help yourself to lunch but clear and wash up? Family supper, everyone helps plus no screens?) – get everyone to stick to it.
3 Encourage healthy sleep patterns: 10 hours’ sleep is ample and it is advisable to help establish good habits. Late-night horror movies or online activities under the duvet until 3am will result in late starts and persistent lethargy. Daytime TV/screen time will zap motivation because it interferes with dopamine in the brain. Help your children to organise their day with screen-based activities as a reward after they have accomplished other things.
4 Create a focus: During the weeks when children are on holiday, but parents are still working, help teens to have a focus/purpose. This could be volunteering or finding a couple of weeks’ paid work – a local farm/garden, shop/café, doing some bar work/waitressing, youth club, pony club, activity centre, cleaning holiday cottages, nannying, babysitting, looking after Granny, domestic chores (cooking family dinner?).
5 Choices and responsibility: Long holidays are an ideal time to get your child to take responsibility for their social life, travel plans, appointments and their own washing/ironing/packing. Thinking, weighing up choices and making decisions fosters independence and problem solving.
Tempting as it is to micro manage or do it for them, try and rein yourself in. Remind yourself that without practice, children can’t learn how to make decisions. If they have always looked to adults for guidance, they become helpless passengers in their metaphorical car. Easy-going compliance from your child is nice while you are behind the wheel, but when someone undesirable hops in, your child will be easily led astray because they have no inner compass to guide them.
6 Expect some mishaps: Letting go and allowing some (safe) risk taking gives children a chance to learn from mistakes. The brain is gradually wiring itself up to have self-control but it is work in progress and can only develop via experience. How parents manage mishaps (at the pub, a party, festival or excursion) can offer vital learning – about accountability, limits (alcohol, sex, drugs) and develop an emotional gauge, a conscience and a brake pedal.
7 Keep talking: Keeping lines of communication open is vital, so your relationship and how you talk to your child needs to be as good as it can be.
a. Try not to harbour resentments. By saying, “I am still furious about what you did last week”, you may drive your teenagers underground and they will not confess so easily when they next mess up.
b. Limit the lectures and have balanced discussions instead.
c. If they are off to a festival, a holiday with another family or off travelling with friends, ask them where they stand on key issues before they depart. The aim is to encourage an independent mind by asking them to articulate their values.
d. If you want to steer the chat to meaty topics such as sex, porn, legal highs or marijuana, arm yourself with facts and plan what you are going to ask. Approach with caution, opportunities don’t come by that often.
8 Encourage a new skill or experience: The long holidays are a chance for your child to develop a skill, an interest or pursue a hobby. Many teens thrive on being part of a team, competition, getting physically fit or getting better at something – sport, music, art, cooking. This boosts confidence and self-esteem in a way gaming, TV reality shows or Facebook do not.
9 Do something together: try and find an activity or sport that you can do regularly with your child over the holidays (camping, tennis, chess, golf, cycling, cooking, fishing, walking). Being together is important bonding time that is difficult to find during school terms.
10 Make time for yourself: The holidays are a long haul for parents so use teenage late starts to read, meet a friend, go for a walk. Prioritise family meal times to enjoy being with your children. It is a chance for them to interact with all ages, be interesting and look interested in what others have to say, listen and be able to accept other viewpoints. The best way these skills are imbibed is through experience and what is modelled to them.
Visit teenagerstranslated.co.uk for Teenagers Translated/Maudsley Learning Courses, which translate research into practical strategies to help prevent problem behaviour in children.