How to Find The Joy in School Holidays

By: Dr Justin Coulson

School holidays are a chance for families to shake off the end of term blahs and find a bit of joy in their lives.

School holidays are fast approaching. For the kids, there have been 10 or more weeks of sport, music, schoolwork, sitting still and navigating friendships. For the parents, it’s been 10 or more weeks  of school lunches, finding missing shoes, packing swim gear and signing excursion forms. Our kids are tired from a long term of school, and we’re tired from balancing it all.

Here are some ways to bring back some job and make the most of the holidays.

Limit Screen Time

When kids are tired letting them veg out in front of the TV seems like it would be a great mental break. It is true that sometimes the human brain needs a break. When we’ve been focused on a specific task for a long stretch of time, mental rest is crucial to allow the brain to process information it’s taken in.

But neuroscientists know that watching television does not allow the brain to properly rest. While some parts are turned off (analysis and reasoning) other parts are highly stimulated (visual cortex). This prevents the brain from really resting. And other devices cause similar problems in our kids’ brains.

In reality, the trick to mental relaxation isn’t turning off the brain, but changing its focus. And school holidays are a perfect time to do that! Creative activities that don’t cost the earth, and some time to just be bored, are both great ways for our kids’ brains (and ours!) to have a break. Sure, let the kids enjoy some downtime staring at a screen – guilt free. But make sure it’s balanced with other activities.

Get Creative with Activities

Holidays are a perfect time to do all those things you haven’t had a chance to do during the school term, like checking out that new playground or skate park going out for a game of soccer or a bike ride along the river, or hiking to that hard-to-get-to beach or mountaintop or waterfall.

It is easy to be sucked into spending a ton of money on activities during the holidays. Being proactive, getting creative with activities and doing a bit of planning can help prevent this.

Libraries, museums, art galleries, local councils and even local shopping centres, often offer kid-friendly activities, which are usually free. Community gardens are another great option – especially if you don’t have a garden at home. Explore your local area for other ideas.

The holidays are also a chance to let the kids do all those things around the house there usually isn’t time for. They can stay in their PJs all day (so can you!), make cookies, do crafts or have a picnic out on the lawn. And yes, there will be a mess, but we can deal with that! Kids aren’t meant to be tidy all the time.

Our family holiday rule is that we aim for one family activity each day. More than that feels like overkill. Less often produces whining and complaining. And besides, having fun together is a great way to decompress and find some joy.

Boredom Isn’t Bad

Being bored is ok! It gives our kids a chance to be creative, to explore, and to learn to deal with what life serves up. It’s not our job as parents to be monitoring every minute of their school holidays and making sure they’ve always got something to do.

Younger kids need more time and attention of course, but as they get older give them space. When they complain that they are bored, give them a chance to find something they want to do on their own. You might have to put up with a little bit of whining, but what a joy it will be (theirs and yours!) when they find something that sparks their interest on their own volition.

Anxiety and Stress

Now and then I sometimes find parents and children who find school holidays stressful rather than relaxing. Kids can have anxiety from the change in routine, from being away from their friends or from worrying about next term. This can be especially significant if they are going to be making a change (year level or schools, for example).

Parents often find having to juggle work commitments and additional childcare requirements stressful. There are sometimes additional costs, and of course, more time entertaining regardless of how creative you are.

But there are ways to combat these stresses and worries.

For kids, make sure you maintain healthy routines. Keep them on a reasonable bedtime schedule and eating healthy foods. If they are having worries, talk about those and come up with an action plan. For example, if they’re starting a new school, go for a walk-through of the school grounds. If they’re missing their friends, arrange a play date.

For us parents, try not to overload yourself with pressures at home (and at work). Get out the family calendar and make a plan together. Schedule in some quiet times, and some time for yourself as well.

Life is busy, and we only have so many holidays with our kids. We can really maximise them when we look for the joy life has to offer! In a few years they may not want to stay in their PJs all day with you.

Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.

About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.

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