Are you excited about having the kids at home for the next 60 days or so, or are you already worrying about juggling work schedules and childcare, managing weather and travel disruption, and keeping the kids entertained and sorting out their arguments?
Parenting in the summer months isn't easier just because the sun might be shining and there's no school run! But it's not rocket-science either. Just as any other time of the year, parenting is about love and common-sense. It's about kindness and firmness. It's about having a plan, and letting go from time to time. It's about struggle and mistakes, as well as moments of joy and happiness.
So here are some things to think about over the next few days so you can start the summer holidays on the front foot, with a clear(ish!) plan!
First and foremost, set honest expectations for what you can achieve and how well the kids will behave.
The children will take time to transition from school mode to holiday mode. And they will be exhausted, particularly after a full year back at school. Some kids will be waiting for exam results that determine their next steps; others will be caught in the gap between one school and another, wondering what the future holds.
And the summer holidays may have perfect Instagram moments, but otherwise it's just real life with the kids at home rather than at school.
So, the children will moan, complain, whine and argue. They will almost certainly spend more time on electronics, and they will be reluctant to do school-work. Their sleep patterns and table manners might slip a bit. At some point, you will wish they were back at school. And that doesn't make it a bad summer.
However, most things will go more smoothly with a little pre-thinking!
SET GUIDELINES AND MAKE THEM VISUAL
Children rely on timetables and rules at school to give them information about what to do, when and where.
Although we want our homes to be relaxed, a few clear lines in the sand keep everyone moving in the same direction at the same speed.
You may want to adapt some rules about meals, bedtimes, and even electronics, but not so much that it makes it hard to transition back to term-time habits in September! We recommend letting the kids have some input about your summer rules. Ask them for their ideas, listen to their point of view, and empathise when they don't get their way.
Then you have two choices – keep all the rules in your head and act as central command, rapping out orders and holding people to account, or externalise the guidelines and stick them up on the wall, and make it a team effort with the kids taking some responsibility for checking what to do.
Knowing what's expected of them, as long as it is reasonable, makes children feel calmer. Being able to self-refer and work things out on their own makes them feel more confident. And it helps them develop independence that will stand them in good stead at school.
It's like giving them a map rather than letting them sail into uncharted waters!
PICK OUT HOT SPOTS AND PROBLEM-SOLVE
The best maps highlight points of interest, and also points of potential trouble. What are your likely hot spots this summer?
It might be airport queues, long car journeys or attending an activity camp without your mates. Don't wait until it's going wrong but work out what your child needs to be able to do in order to cope with these situations? How can you help them manage? When you've had a few ideas, get collaborative and involve your child in brainstorming possible solutions. Children don't get better at thinking things through, getting creative, and making good choices when we keep doing this for them …. And if their solutions work, they feel good! (And so do you!)
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES
Talking about feeling good, it's time to talk about the power of positive attention!
It's an old story that never gets old. We get more of what we pay attention to, so it's another choice - spend the summer picking out all the things your kids don't get right, or get to September feeling pretty chuffed with the things they do get right?
We usually talk about the benefits of positive attention for the children. When we notice their positive behaviour, and acknowledge it with our positive attention, children blossom. They feel more confident, trusted, respected, valued and competent.
But who else benefits from the positive attention? It's the parents!
Descriptively praising positive moments is a win-win tactic. Focussing more on the positives than the negatives re-wires our brains to a more optimistic setting. It makes us feel more aware, and more proud, of our children's abilities. It makes us feel more competent and confident as parents. Who would not want a little bit of that over the next few weeks?!
And just wait until they notice your best bits and descriptively praise you!
ALLOW BOREDOM & DON'T OVER-SCHEDULE
While you're waiting, and we'll be honest, you may wait a while for some descriptive praise for yourself, let's consider the importance of boredom.
How often have we said ‘don't just sit there, do something!' because we've fallen into the trap of thinking doing nothing is, well, nothing to be proud of. But doing nothing is not nothing ….
The Italians have a phrase ‘il dolce far niente' which refers to the sweetness of doing nothing so our Italian friends are one step ahead of us in their attitude to being inactive.
Allowing yourself to get bored, feeling OK about it, and finding ways out of it, is a super-skill we all need to develop. Rushing from one activity to another, with never a moment to think or just live in the moment, is not good for us.
Research into boredom is booming – and not at all boring. Here's what the scientists have discovered so far:
Try not to over-schedule the children this summer. Let them spend some time ‘being' rather than ‘doing'. When they moan about being bored, respond calmly and empathetically “hmm, that's not a fun feeling, what ideas can you come up with?”, rather than immediately making suggestions about what they can do.
Having said that, a Boredom Buster list can help avoid an over-reliance on electronics. Watch out for the download on Instagram @theparentteam or ask for one at email@example.com
ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO TALK ABOUT FEELINGS
The debate continues about the difference between emotions, feelings and moods, how many there are of each, and how long they last. Here's what we do know ….
However your child feels is OK. How they feel is not your responsibility or problem or fault, and it's not your job to change how they feel. Your role is helping your child develop an awareness of their emotions and an ability to handle their emotions.
We know it's much harder to do than it sounds. When our child is upset or scared, every fibre of our being urges us to make them feel ‘better' by cheering them up or distracting them. We need to lean or tune into their feeling instead. Here are two different responses to a worried child:
Child: I don't want to go to the new school in September. I want to stay at my school with my friends for ever.
Parent: Don't worry. It will be fine. You'll soon love your school and make amazing new friends!
Child: I don't want to go to the new school in September. I want to stay at my school with my friends for ever.
Parent: It's hard moving on. You had a great time at your school and made some great friends. You don't know your new school or your new classmates yet. You're nervous about how long it will take to settle in. Doing new things is tricky. Waiting to do new things is tricky too!
Funnily enough, accepting how our child feels rather than trying to change how our child feels often results in a shift in their emotional state! Not always, but sometimes, feeling understood and accepted by us, lightens their mood and releases them from their feeling for a while.
We don't need to lean into every feeling all summer! We simply don't have the time! How about tuning in once a day over the summer?
GIVE RESPONSIBILITIES AND DEVELOP PRACTICAL SKILLS
There are many things that need to be done at home every day over the summer. Domestic tasks continue, and even increase, during the holidays.
Young kids are super-happy to help us with mundane household jobs, but after we've told them to stop a few times, they oblige. Then we spend the next few years begging them to do what they had been doing so willingly before!
During a busy school term, we don't get much time to teach and train our children to do things at home. We focus on getting them to do their homework, rather than worrying about them not doing their laundry.
But the practical micro and macro skills involved in domestic tasks transfer well into schoolwork. More than that, the emotional skills of taking responsibility, being reliable, handling reluctance, overcoming resistance, and persevering are crucial to academic success!
Have a think about what your child could take responsibility for over the summer, on behalf of the family. Don't underestimate them! Kids can cook, cut, chop, load, unload, wash, dry, mow, fix electrics, and much more. It does take a bit of time and patience to teach and train them, but they get a real kick out of being trusted and making valued contributions to the family.
This is particularly true for our pre-teens with their natural drive to turn towards their peers. Parents are always asking us how to keep their pre-teens and teens close. One way is giving them important roles in the family. It's not the only way, so watch out for our teenage workshops coming soon!
SPEND TIME TOGETHER & TALK (AND LISTEN!)
During term-time, our conversations with our kids become very transactional. Our ‘chats' are about checking what they've done and not done and need to do. That's not the way to build relationships.
Sometimes we panic that we don't know what else to talk about though!
The best way to start a conversation is showing interest, rather trying to be interesting yourself. Ask your child about whatever interests them – even if it doesn't fascinate you on any level. Ask them to explain how it works, and why they enjoy it.
Ask them to teach you to do something – even if it's a computer game. Be prepared to experience what it's like wanting to do something, and not being able to - let the tables be turned for once!
Talking about tables, what topics tend to come up at family meals in your home? Mealtimes aren't supposed to be meetings with agendas and tick lists. Mealtimes are moments when families relax and connect with each other. If you're struggling to get a conversation started, we'll be releasing our conversation starters on Instagram soon!
NURTURE THE SIBLING RELATIONSHIP
So far we've talked about individual children and the family, but what about the sibling relationship? Brothers and sisters, however lovely they may be individually, have to work out how to get along with each other. And it's a bit hit and miss ….
There's a lot going on in the sibling relationship. That's why we can talk about it for nearly 2 hours in our sibling workshop! Everything we've talked about so far – being realistic, setting ground rules, listening to feelings, sharing domestic tasks – all boost the sibling relationship. Let's look in more detail about the positive attention bit.
Imagine that your kids are playing relatively nicely together. What do we tend to do? Not much.
Now imagine that they're playing and you hear angry voices, then a loud wail and one child rushes in to tell you their story. What do we tend to do? Get stuck in!
So we have positive sibling behaviour getting very little attention, and negative sibling behaviour getting a whole load of attention.
The single best thing we can do as parents to nurture the sibling relationship is notice and point out all the times they get along well enough. Whenever one sibling is kind or generous or caring, or tries to be kind, generous or caring, or just isn't horrible, we can say something positive about that. There are some really strong and healthy meta-messages here - we show them that they can get along and we show them that getting along is important to us.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF TOO ….
That's enough about the kids, time to turn back to ourselves! Our children learn to take care of each other, and of themselves, from us. They follow where we lead.
Just as the kids are tired from a full year back at school, most of us have found the transition from lockdown to a more traditional way of living pretty challenging. We won't make it through the summer on an empty tank, so what can you do to re-fuel and re-energise yourself over the next few weeks? If you have some time to yourself, you are more likely to feel calmer and find managing your children easier and more enjoyable.
We're sure you've got some ideas of nice things to do – these might be big trips or family get togethers – but also enjoy the micro moments in the day – a good cup of coffee, or just sitting in the sunshine. We very much hope you'll take those ideas and put them into action. We will be taking good care of ourselves this summer too, ready for a busy year ahead. But there will always be someone here if you need us, so if you have a particular concern or worry, please get in touch.