I love my kids. I love watching them do their thing. My 8 year old is one of the most creative people I know and I think I could just listen to my 4 year old talk all day long. I look forward to school break and having that extra time with them when we aren’t having to run to catch the bus or make sure all the homework and chores are done before bed. Yet, it’s not all sunshine and roses and any parent of two or more kids will tell you that there are moments they want to pull their hair out. In the wake of creative play and projects, my two tornadoes can leave a mess of overwhelming proportions. And although they get along really well for the most part and can play for hours with each other, they have yet to acquire the skill of managing their need for alone time before their play erupts into screaming and tears. I won’t lie to you and tell you that I’ve found a perfect solution that I’m consistent at following–but I do have a few tips that just might make your school break a bit more peaceful.
- Set realistic expectations. Be a student of your children. Know where they are developmentally, what areas they are competent in, and what will be appropriately challenging to them without being discouraging. Be aware of their individual personalities, emotional triggers, how much time they need alone and how much time they need with friends. Know what motivates them. This understanding will guide you in creating expectations for what they are able to accomplish and how much activity they can manage in their day.
- Create structure. Children thrive and feel competence within a structure that is based on realistic expectations. That competence promotes a positive self concept which then effects their behavior and interactions with others. One of the easiest ways to create this structure over school breaks is to create checklists broken up into manageable tasks throughout the day. Instead of nagging them about every task that they need to do, when they ask to have screen time or go to a friends house to play you’ll be able to just point to their chart and let them know they can go once their list is complete.
- Avoid overstimulation. There are so many different fun activities happening over winter break and you could easily try to pack a couple of activities into each day. This is where knowing your kids comes in. What is their limit and what is your limit? Too much activity, especially when interacting with less familiar people, can be exhausting for our children and it’s no wonder when they become irritable. This is especially difficult with all the family gatherings this time of year. Create space for them to decompress and limit, if possible, how many back to back days are spent with extended family.
- Model what you want to see. One of the toughest things about parenting is seeing all our flaws mirrored in our children. If our children are struggling with patience, chances are there’s an adult in their life who is impatient with them. The bad news is that we will never be perfect models for our children. The good news is that we can model extending grace and forgiveness to ourselves and to our children. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the act of asking for their forgiveness when we screw up and offering them unconditional love and forgiveness when they screw up.
- Play! We often are so over-committed as parents that it’s hard to find margin in our days to just relax and play with our kids but they are desperate for that time with us. I will be the first to tell you how difficult it can be to let go of the long to do lists but also how rewarding it can be to take an hour just to sit and read with my children or color with my daughter or build a marble maze with my son. They want to know that they are important to us and the simple act of playing with them, undistracted, communicates to them that they are loved and they they have worth. When our kids feel better about themselves they will treat others around them, their siblings and parents, with greater respect and kindness.
I hope these tips give you some hope and encouragement for the upcoming school break. Share in the comments what you’ve found helpful for creating a more peaceful home.
Hannah Lindsey, MSW, LCSW, provides individual and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office. Contact her today at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 703-951-6409 to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.