Top 10 Tips For Stress-free School Summer Holidays

Whether you are busy working full-time and don't have the holiday allowance to take the time off, or you are at home with the kids desperately trying to think of affordable activities to occupy them with, the school holidays are often a huge source of stress for parents.

Rather than working yourself to a frenzy trying to keep up with other parents (and your child's!) entertainment expectations, why not take control and plan a stress-free summer using these tips to avoid school holiday overwhelm:

1. Identify Your Family's Priorities

Parents often try to cram in as much as possible, thinking that by organising multiple events, visits, day trips etc. they will be in control. But managing the organisation of all of this, combined with travel stress can lead to frustration and upset, with you threatening to 'turn this car around right now if you don't pack it in!' Sound familiar?

To get a handle on the temptation to overload this summer, start with a family meeting to clarify what everyone (including you!) wants to enjoy this summer holiday and then write them all down; spending time together as a family, relaxing in the garden, going to the seaside, eating ice-creams, movie night, living-room camp-out, as many ideas as you can all think of. Be as specific as you can. For example, don't just put 'having fun', dig a little deeper into what that actually means. Remember these are just ideas at this stage.

Next, discuss all the ideas as a family and identify which ones might be too expensive this year and add them to next years' list. Allow each person to choose their favourite activity and plan in as many as you feel realistically able to do. Any that get missed this time around can go on next year's list or maybe into a lucky dip of activities for later in the holiday.

2. Keep It Simple

Don't cram too much in, and make sure there is a mixture of big activities (day trips, events, visits to see people) and small activities (walk in the park, drawing, baking, art, movies) that everyone will enjoy.

Remember, over-stimulation can be just as detrimental as under-stimulation. So bear in mind that children need some quiet time throughout the day. This could be reading, drawing, some time to themselves or some self-play.

3. Stick to a Routine

Having a clear routine is one of the things that helps children (and adults) cope with change. Children often thrive on the routine and boundaries created in school as they know what's happening next and exactly what is expected of them and when.

This could be as simple as having breakfast then doing an activity, then a snack, then some quiet time before lunch and then an afternoon activity.

By all means agree new bedtimes if you like, but remember the challenge it will be to get back to the normal sleep routine again come September.

The best sleep advice is to stick with your usual sleep schedule and avoid the temptation to stay up late and sleep in. That way no-one has a sleep deficit and everyone understands the boundaries. It also gives you time to yourself in the evening.

4. Create Space

After spending much of the past year already stuck at home, the summer holidays can make it feel like you are living on top of each other, which can lead to short tempers as people try desperately to carve out their own space.

Maybe as part of your routine, everyone spends a little bit of time each day in their own space having some quiet time. Or give everyone a 'Do Not Disturb' card that they can deploy if they desperately feel the need for some personal space.

Even something as simple as putting headphones in can create a boundary, so try to respect each other's.

5. Help Each Other Out By Arranging Play-dates

Children love playing with their friends and will often pass many hours playing together or chatting without even realising, so this can help alleviate some of the pressure from parents and carers.

By taking turns to host play-dates parents can carve out some time to get tasks done or just have some downtime during the busy schools holidays.

Make sure you have an agreement about what is expected during the play-dates to avoid the temptation to compete with each other for 'the most fun play-date'. Keep it simple and everyone wins!

6. Get Involved and Play!

Why not get stuck in and help the children create their pillow forts and blanket dens? Getting involved in the fun and silliness gives your children the opportunity to see you in a different light and for you to have real conversations with them. These are the moments they will remember!

7. Use Positive Parenting Techniques To Manage Behaviour

Hopefully having a clear routine and normal sleeping pattern will help with behaviour management, but there will inevitably be times when children test their carers. Remember this is a normal part of everyday life and shows that your child is just working out their place in the world.

Work together to create a clear reward system for positive behaviour and go out of your way to 'catch' your child being good or using desirable behaviours or character strengths. Make sure you praise them and be explicit about what they did. For example, 'I love how kind you were with your little sister just now. See how happy she is?'

When you feel frustrated, avoid the temptation to shout. Think about your reaction as a lesson to your child as to how they should behave when they feel angry or frustrated. Try squared-breathing to help you feel calm, or tell your child calmly that you will talk about this in a little bit once you feel calmer.

Once you are both calm, have a hug and discuss what happened and what led to it. Identify what could have been done differently next time, from you both if necessary, and seek apologies, giving love, forgiveness and understanding.

Get in touch if you would like to know more about my Positive Parenting Coaching sessions.

8. Plan Mealtimes and Snacks

This might sound a bit obvious, but most parents I know say they spend all day feeding their kids during the holidays, and their food bills are astronomical!

Remember that apart from breakfast, at school children usually get a piece of fruit as a snack in the morning, their lunch and then nothing until they get home from school, and they function perfectly well with that!

Quite often when children say they are hungry, they may in fact be thirsty or just bored. So help your child avoid developing the bad habit that is 'eating your boredom' by using on of the following suggestions.

One of the best things I've seen a parent do, set up a home shop and gave their children 50p each day to spend in the snack shop. Healthy choices such as fruit and rice cakes were cheaper, so they could get lots more, or they could spend more on an unhealthier snack such as juice or a bag of crisps but then go hungry until the next meal. Water was free - so they drank loads!

Another inspirational parent set up a snack box for each child for the day with all their snacks and drinks in it. Then, once they were gone, they're gone!

Both techniques teach children delayed gratification, how to manage their wants and how to make healthier choices. (If only the supermarkets worked like this and all fruit and veg was actually as cheap as chips!)

You could always keep a chore list to enable children to 'earn' more money to spend in the snack shop and top their snacks up!

9. Manage Relatives’ Expectations

Often there is an expectation to travel far and wide to see family and friends, which can pile on the stress. Instead, try meeting up half-way for a day out together. This can combine one of the desired activities while also halving travel time and the need to cater.

This can reduce the likelihood of poor behaviour caused by boredom and also helps you stay in control of your stress.

At the end of the day, you are perfectly within your rights to say, 'Actually, we've had such a disruptive year, we just want to get back to basics and spend some time together as a family.'

Alternatively, children could spend more time with their grandparents, godparent's, aunts and uncle, which can help you out and give you a much needed break. But be prepared for your child to develop some confusion over what is and isn't allowed, as everyone else will inevitably spoil them with treats, acquiescing to unreasonable demands and basically letting them do what they like!

This may lead to undesirable behaviours, but showing understanding in this situation is essential, so explain what has happened and gently reinforce your own boundaries and expectations to get back to normal.

10. Create A Memory Jar

Finally, make sure you spend a little bit of time each day focusing on the positives. Every day, or after each special activity if you prefer, ask everyone to write down something they enjoyed that day. Fold them all up and keep them in a memory jar to look back at at the end of summer and reminisce.

So there you go, my top 10 tips for stress-free school summer holidays! I hope you found them useful.

Of course, sometimes it is easier said than done!

That's why I offer Positive Parenting Coaching sessions to discuss your individual needs and identify opportunities for you to create a new behaviour management strategy and help your child develop their strengths.

Find out more on my website.

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