It is often the case that children cannot wait for the school holidays to start and parents for it to finish. Many a parent has wondered how their little angels turned into the Grinch who stole everyone’s Merry Christmas. Yes, grandparents who come to spoil and routines that are interrupted by vacation could be some of the many good excuses. However, the main culprit is mostly, well… us!
With all the festivities in the air, we are quick to let boundaries slide “in the spirit of the Season”. Unfortunately, no kid is born holy, and will certainly not bring “joy to the world” if we do not guide them with good and consistent parenting practices. Another challenge is providing them with positive opportunities to keep themselves busy when they are not at school or kindergarten.
Diet and discipline are never on holiday!
As Super Granny, Andalene Salvesen emphasises in her book, Raising Happy, Healthy Children, firm discipline and a nutritious diet are foundational in a child’s behaviour and happiness. Unfortunately, the holidays frequently pose a big threat to the already difficult task of consistently implementing these basic principles.
Responsible relishing. While food is an integral and awesome part of the festive season, holidays are often a time when we fill our children with the biggest load of rubbish foods and then wonder why their behaviour seems to reflect that. While we do not have constant control over what is served at parties and your child will surely on occasion have her cake and eat it too – we are still not powerless bystanders!
We have the authority to lay down rules (also to grandparents and other well-meaning friends or family members) with regards to what and how much our children can have. Also, we can control what we bring to the table (literally!) and what is dished up at home and from our picnic baskets. And it certainly does not have to be boring or tasteless (start off by visiting our website for some fun and nutritious recipes)!
Parenting whilst partying. When you are away from the safe space of home and surrounded by people who do not necessarily share your sentiments on discipline, it becomes an even bigger challenge to be firm and consistent. Enforcing a time-out in public places is still possible and other consequences for disobedience (such as taking away a toy or other privilege, or moving backwards on an incentive chart) are also just as doable during holidays. With older children, you can agree to “talk later when we are alone”, but with younger ones (under four), immediate consequences are mostly advised. You do not have to embarrass your child in front of others or be rude to adults who indulged them in their negative behaviours. Be gentle and loving, but firm and unapologetic.
Remember, discipline is something we do for our children and not to them. The same people who might raise an eyebrow when you are the “party pooper” will not like your undisciplined brat in ten years’ time, so do not be fazed by their reactions. If you are spending prolonged time with people, kindly explain your family’s rules to them and ask them to respect it.
Am I really responsible for keeping them entertained?
The answer to the above is both “yes” and “no”.
Time is a treasure. No toy, sponsored excursions or holiday destination could ever make up for our time. Holidays and weekends are specially designed for busy moms and dads to treat their children by giving of themselves. Make time for activities, outings and games that your children love. During these times, leave your phone and other responsibilities behind to offer undivided attention. If your child knows that he is treasured and can always rely on the prospect of special times together, his behaviour during stretches when you are busy with other things will show it.
Balanced boredom. With the above said, you do not have to carry the burden of providing nonstop amusement and being your child’s constant playmate. It is also beneficial to let them keep themselves busy – even if it entails periods of boredom. Boredom is not always bad. In fact, it serves as an impetus for creative action and imagination. A child whose every second of the day is filled with structured activity might be robbed of the opportunity to think for herself. On the flip side, a child who has absolutely nothing to do will most likely end up in trouble or in a depressive “stupor”. As with everything in life – balance is the key. Have positive activity plans and playthings available, but allow for plenty of free play time.
Double it up. I always like keeping my child busy with activities that serve a dual function. Food activities (e.g. baking healthy snacks, preparing meals together, etc.) is a good example of this. So is going for a fun walk to feed the ducks in the park (Vitamin D boost, exercise, getting rid of stale bread plus fun – all in one).
For other great activity ideas and holiday travel tips for all ages, read this helpful Munchkins blog!
Popular pitfalls. I know, I know just because the kids are on holiday does not mean you have nothing else to do. And if you don’t, I bet you are craving to relax a bit after the demanding year! Sadly, busy and tired parents often fall into traps during the holidays.
Try to avoid these whenever possible:
Too much screen time. This includes television, computers, I-pads, phones and any other mobile devices. Yes, most kids love them and they do seem to make for great babysitters, but ultimately they lead to too many cognitive, social, emotional and physical problems to make any of it worth it. Therefore, drastically limit screen time! This also means taking away your teen’s phone for big parts of the day. Tough love!
Too much educational stuff. While many educational toys and activities are great, in excess kids can feel pressured by them and actually develop adverse reactions to learning. Plus, getting out and engaging in free play might be more enriching at times.
Keep it real. Keep it balanced.
Too many toys. Bribing your kids to “be happy on their own” by providing them with the entire content of a toy shop will only bring you so far (not to mention ruin your budget). Although they may be excited at first, possessions never make up for positive time and can breed selfishness, lack of gratitude and achieve the exact opposite effect – boredom and the constant need to be stimulated. Consider buying one or two special “holiday toys”, but combine it with together time and fun activities.
You have roughly eighteen summer holidays with your children before they are all grown up and doing their own thing. Embrace it and enjoy your little munchkin – even if your biggest Christmas wish is simply to “sleep in heavenly peace”.
About the Author
Petro Wagner is a pregnant, work-from-home mommy of a two-year-old princess and a limited-edition dog. She has a Master’s degree and further training in Play Therapy, backed by an impressive knowledge of all the Heidi episodes; knowing the lyrics to endless nursery songs; and having personally met Sleeping Beauty in her real castle in Germany.