Life Family Features

Sunday 21 September 2014

10 ways to keep your calm with the kids this summer

With the school break underway, a little planning can help parents cope. Follow this advice and you can create happy memories that last a lifetime

Published 07/07/2014 | 02:30

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Girl (6-7) sleeping on bed with teddy bear, elevated view
Children do need a chance to rest and recuperate. Lie-ins are not a bad thing.
SUMMER FUN: A bit of planning with your children can help ease the long school holidays for all the family
Girl (3-5) hanging washing on clothes line
Involving everyone, in a fair way, with the household chores will definitely add to your enjoyment.

Do you look forward to the holidays with your children with dread or delight? Whatever your perspective, a little bit of planning ahead goes a long way to enjoying the summer, rather than enduring it.

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I've collected my top 10 tips for enjoying the summer. I haven't included sunny warm weather, since we have absolutely no control over that, but a bit of decent sunshine will always make it easier to enjoy the holidays.

Arrange as much time off for yourself as you can

There may be some who have too much time off as a result of unemployment and ill health, but for those who are working you will be amazed by how much easier it becomes to organise the summer when you have the time to do it.

For a start you will have to rely less on childcare, which over the summer can be a bit haphazard, especially when your children are school-age but not yet old enough to get through the day without minding.

Also, though, your own mood will lift when you are not putting in the long and draining hours at your job. Even when we love work we still need to acknowledge that it does take our energy to do it well.

As a consequence, we may have less energy for our families, at a time when they need a little more of an investment of time and attention.

So, if you can swing it (and afford it), try to negotiate the family friendliest package with your boss.

Keep to a routine

Now, this one is not necessarily to everyone's liking. I know many families who place more importance on the absence of any kind of routine during the summer as the key to happiness.

I don't subscribe to that view. Especially when your children are young, they will generally enjoy routine and the predictability that it brings.

I do love the fact that when my children and I are off from school and work respectively that we can dump the early mornings. But having more lie-ins doesn't mean falling out of routine. So, it still helps to have a plan for the day, and even a plan for the week.

While the odd pyjama day is a treat, a whole summer of pyjama days is just indolent.

Get the children up, dressed and out, both for the fresh air and just to keep them in the habit.

Limit screen time, even in the summer

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Those of you who read my articles regularly will know that I am a great believer in limiting children's (and teenager's) screen time. This isn't just a "bah humbug" attempt to frustrate children in some of the things they like to do best.

It is, however, based on the good solid research evidence that shows children are becoming less active and at greater risk from issues like obesity and type-2 diabetes.

For example, US research shows that children, on average, spend five to seven hours a day in front of various screens.

During the summer it is easy for these hours to creep up further. Many parents find that they then end up with grumpy, tetchy children.

Less time watching TV and playing on the phone or tablet will actually lead to less rows.

Simple ways to start the reduction is to firstly keep a record of it so that you can show your child some evidence of just how much of their life is disappearing into a digital world.

Then remove TVs and computers from their bedrooms. Turn off family TVs during mealtimes.

Plan your TV watching and make sure to turn off the TV between programmes rather than just leaving it on as "background noise".

Challenge your children to balance their screen time with an equivalent activity time. Try to limit your own screen time to two hours a day so you can experience, first hand, what you are expecting of your children.

Make the children useful

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Chores may not seem like a great way to enjoy the summer. But with the children around the house more, in my experience, there is more tidying up, washing up and food preparation than at other times.

Involving everyone, in a fair way, with the household chores will definitely add to your enjoyment. Indeed it may stave off the potential resentment that comes from watching your teenager lounging on the sofa for the day before disappearing off to meet their mates, while you have been working away all day, hanging out washing, cooking dinners and such like.

This is easier to achieve if your children are already in the habit of helping out. But if not, then this is as good a time to start as any.

If you stick with your plan and encourage and help them to do the jobs you will find that any moaning reduces over time.

Include your children in any summer planning

I mentioned earlier that it does help to plan the days and weeks ahead. Indeed, when you do start to plan to include trips, summer camps, visits to relatives and such like we can easily see the weeks getting swallowed up.

So, if your children haven't been part of that planning you may find that you get more resistance from them, as it seems their "time off" is soaked up with a load of "stuff".

If, on the other hand, they have been able to choose some of the stuff you will find that they are generally more agreeable.

You may also find that they are very creative with ideas for family days out. You may also find that they have a certain tolerance for other family activities that it may be best to fall in line with.

So even though you might love the long walks in the park, they might just want to skim stones across the pond.

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Consider summer camps

Naturally summer camps are dependent on having some available, locally, and being able to afford them. However, the variety and affordability of summer camps is huge. Many communities run summer camps, at low cost.

Lots of sporting organisations, like the GAA and the FAI, also run great camps and manage to keep the costs down. The benefits of camps are also varied. They can give you some welcome time off; either to keep the children amused most of the day so you can keep working, or just some time to yourself in the day so that you have more energy for your children in the afternoon and evening.

Children love the social interaction and the activities. Most camps keep the children, not just occupied, but physically active too. This is a great balance for the tempting screen time that they may otherwise fall into.

Give them some time with relatives

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Farming your children off to their granny, or an uncle or aunt may seem a bit selfish, on your part. Certainly if you and they perceive that you are simply "farming them off" it mightn't be very successful.

However, it is good for children to spend time with extended family. They may learn practical skills if they have a relative with expertise in some area.

They may also learn some self-care skills and appreciate home (and you!) more when they realise that others do things differently.

Having them spend time with relatives could also make your life a bit easier to organise and again give you a chance to work.

Organise a supervision rota

Depending on the ages of your children and the nature of your local area, you might want to chat to the other mams and dads about sharing the job of keeping an eye on all the children out on the road, or on the green.

Not everyone will want to buy into this, as some will be confident their child doesn't need such supervision, or that they just can't.

While there are many children that are responsible and will take care of themselves, or keep an eye out for younger children, we can't depend on children minding themselves.

Equally, it is useful to know that you have an hour or two when you can get other stuff done while there is an adult, you know, keeping an eye to make sure all is well and that no child is wandering too far.

Keep your children engaged in sport

Children active in sport have less time to loiter and cause mischief. They will also be fitter and healthier than those who do no sport at all.

Almost every sporting organisation is aware of the extra demands on parents during summertime so many of them run extra summer camp programmes, or extra training sessions to keep children occupied and engaged.

So, even though it may be a burden in terms of transporting your children here and there, it is worth keeping their sports going. You may have only seen sports as part of their extra curricular activities during term time but actually it will benefit them if you see sports as part of their lives.

If nothing else, sport is a balance to the lethargy and laziness that TV and other screen media promote.

Let them sleep

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It may seem odd to finish with a tip that seems to be in opposition to the many tips I have about keeping your children active. However, school time is, typically, a very busy time for children and families.

So, children do need a chance to rest and recuperate. Lie-ins are not a bad thing.

Be careful not to let the balance switch to very late nights and very late mornings, as this can be hard to reverse again in September.

But, those extra hours of sleep that they can take during holidays are good for them.

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