8 tips to help you survive the school holidays

The summer holidays can be a challenging time for families. Changes in routines can lead to challenging behaviour and exhausted parents. The sudden lack of a daily schedule can make it difficult for your child to manage their emotions and behaviour, potentially leading to dysregulation. As a parent, providing a structured and predictable environment during the summer holiday can help your child feel more secure and balanced. However,  it can be a real struggle when you are also balancing working and other children in the family. Here are some tips to support your child through this period.

Activities

For younger children, a consistent daily routine can provide the stability your child needs. Try to replicate the structure they are accustomed to during term time, including set times for meals, activities, and bedtime. For adolescents,  it is important for them to have some downtime. Low demands on their time and allowing them to ‘just be’ and recharge shouldn’t be underestimated. 

Involve Your Child in Planning

Including your child in planning activities can give them an increased sense of control and ownership over their routine. Sit down together at the beginning of each week to plan out activities and events. Is there anything they want to achieve? Perhaps a reading challenge at the local library, to walk or jog a certain distance or even watching every episode of their favourite TV program?

Use Visual Schedules

Visual schedules can be helpful for children who benefit from clear, concrete cues. Create a chart or use a whiteboard to outline the day’s activities and have a weekly planner too. It can be helpful to include pictures, symbols or visual cue’s for younger children (you can get them involved by drawing the pictures). Some families create a visual holiday board throughout the year, adding ideas of what they would like to do or places to see.  Some can be exotic ’if only’ places to visit or they may simply be something like spending an afternoon together watching a film.

Maintain Regular Sleep Patterns

Sleep is crucial for regulating emotions and behaviour. Try to keep bedtime and wake-up times consistent, even on weekends if you can. This helps to maintain a sense of normality and ensures your child gets adequate rest.

“When adolescence hits, changes happen in your child’s brain. It develops, and hormones are changing. They are biologically more likely to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin, later at night meaning they don’t feel sleepy until the early hours. For a period of time, this shifts their natural circadian rhythm making it out of sync. This means they may struggle with falling asleep at an appropriate hour, need lengthy lie-ins at the weekend and find it harder to wake up in the morning.

Young people need sleep – they need it for growth, development, learning and emotional health – and they tend to need around 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

During term time, many teens are probably not getting the sleep they need. However, during the holidays, letting them sleep until midday will only push their circadian rhythm out of sync completely.  Their sleep drive (ie. their need/pressure to sleep) will not occur until later at night meaning they will want to go to bed even later. The knock-on effect is that they then sleep in the following morning. The cycle continues resulting in a disruptive sleep routine. This can cause conflict in communication between you and your child.

Consider in the holidays having a regular bedtime that suits them (and you!) and isn’t 2 am. Also agreeing on a set wake-up time – it doesn’t need to be 7am nor does it need to be midday, so why not compromise on 9.30 am for instance? If they get up late and spend too much time in bed, then their natural appetite for sleep will weaken, leaving them wide awake at night-time”. Bed adviceUK

Managing these conversations with your child in an adult way using communication techniques can be really helpful. Before having these conversations ask yourself the following – 

  • How would you like to have this conversation?
  • How would your teenage self want to have this conversation? 
  • What would you have wanted to hear as a teenager?
  • What would your teenager respond well to?

Prepare for Transitions

Transitions between activities can be challenging for some children. Use timers or give advance warnings to help your child prepare for upcoming changes. For example, “In 10 minutes, we’ll be cleaning up and getting ready for lunch.” if you use a smart speaker you can use these, or ask your child to set them to allow them some control and ownership and bring a bit of fun to a boring reminder! The visual timetable can help prepare your child for this transition too.

Thinking about why your child struggles to transition from one activity to another can be helpful. If they find transitions difficult, perhaps ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they really enjoying what they are doing?
  • Do they really want to stop?
  • Do they really want to go to the next activity?

Recognising where the difficulty is, validating this and showing compassion and understanding can help reduce conflict. Eg. ‘I can see you are really enjoying doing that, I can imagine how frustrating it is that we need to stop now.’ 

Build in Flexibility

While structure is important, it’s also essential to remain flexible. Unexpected events or changes in plans can occur, and it’s helpful to model adaptability. Teach your child that while routines are helpful, it’s okay to adjust when needed. Sometimes unexpected things happen that we just can’t avoid – and it’s great to build resilience to this type of thing. Taking time to talk this through, whilst acknowledging the difficulty,  can increase your child’s understanding and adaptability. If possible, prepare your child for possible changes eg. ‘We’re meant to be driving there, but if that’s not possible we’ll get the bus instead.’

Plan Downtime

Allow for downtime. In busy term time, there is little downtime for children ( and adults), and having nothing to do is okay, we do not have to fill every moment of our child’s day to make it feel meaningful or to make us parents feel less guilty.  Ensure there’s time each day for your child to engage in activities that they find calming and enjoyable – it’s okay if that’s screen time, or just being in their room or hanging out with you doing nothing in particular!

Stay Connected and Engaged

Spend quality time with your child and engage in activities together. This strengthens your relationship, provides emotional security and reinforces the positive environment you’re creating.

Navigating the long summer holidays with a child who thrives on routine can be challenging, but with careful planning and flexibility, you can create an environment that supports their needs. By maintaining a consistent schedule, involving your child in planning and balancing activities, you can help them enjoy a fun and regulated summer break. Your presence, understanding, and support are key to helping your child feel secure and happy during this time.

 

You might also find this post helpful: Helping back to school transitions after a school break

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