School holidays offer an opportunity for the family to spend more time together and for the parents to improve positive communication and relationship with children. Many parents, thinking of the fact that they will have to plan activities and fun for their children, may consider the approaching school holidays stressful. Some international studies show that about two thirds of children do not agree with their parents about what is quality time. Parents who are very busy may consider cooking or watching TV in the same room to be quality time spent with their children.
From children’s perspective, quality time includes direct and full attention of their parents. We may say that the time should enable talking about significant issues and practising useful shared activities. Sometimes it is difficult to find the ‘right’ time to spend with children. The more grown up they are, the more difficult it is considering their school and additional activities. Parents often expect their children to be happy when they plan special family events and activities, but it is not always the case.
Apart from shared activities, quality time with children includes quality communication, too. Take time to talk with children. It is important in building an open and honest relationship, creating an atmosphere where children can feel free to take up any issues. While talking, remember to listen to what your child has to say. Foster your child’s curiosity and interests by asking a lot of ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ questions. This helps children to learn how to express their thoughts and feelings. Let the children talk about themselves, about what they like to do, about their worries. This will help in creating an atmosphere of trust and acceptance.
Holidays are often a time of joy and gift-giving. However, they are also an opportunity to spend more time with our children. Children acquire experience of emotional bonds, of belonging and of their own identity in the atmosphere and events in the family. Therefore, our time, attention and feelings should be given to our children, together with gifts. That way, we satisfy children’s emotional needs for love, acceptance and respect.
Holidays are a convenient opportunity for developing family tradition – the greatest benefit for children is the significance of mutual relationships in our lives. Being parents, we are models and children imitate our behaviour, beliefs and considerations. When we, together with our children, recall pleasant events we had with our parents during holidays, we teach our children the appreciation of fundamental moments in life, we teach them how to make these moments special in their lives. In this way, children develop emotional relationships with the family members who they do not live with and remember the ones who are not with them any more. Talking about holiday events and people from our childhood, makes them the part of children’s emotional world.
Another important element of family tradition is repeating activities. Repetition is the best tool the child uses to learn – rituals initiate activities and children like repetition. It gives a sense of security in their lives. In order to feel safe, children need a feeling that their world is predictable. A six-month-old infant expecting a bath and nursing bottle will show confusion by not falling asleep and uncontrollably crying if these are missing. Rituals and family customs during holidays create increased feeling of security and pleasure in children’s lives, which influences their development into a well-adapted, self-confident and mature adult.
Customs and rituals do not have to be significant for holidays only. Think about everyday activities you are performing together. Even the simplest house work can become a family custom – e.g. washing up together.
Homely ways of creating family customs with your children
* 1. Choose some activity you enjoy doing with your children during holidays. It can be something simple like making a list of greeting cards and choosing them, deciding which cookies will be made and choosing presents.
* 2. Add some important detail to this activity in order to boost its significance. E.g. make the presents for other family members a surprise – your children’s and your secret. Or, together with children, make the greeting cards and display the most beautiful ones in the living room.
* 3. Invite other family members and friends so that the event is more special for children than usually.
* 4. Record special moments with a camera or write a story about them. Story telling together with children about what you were doing last Christmas, can grow into a beautiful bed-time story and enable children to revisit the pleasant experience.
* 5. Do not forget – ritual means repetition. Make the part of Christmas and New Year eve be identical every year – e.g. decorating the Christmas tree, making cookies together, Christmas dinner…
Some of the family activities during holidays can be: playing with children, going to the theatre, taking a walk, collecting pine cones and leaves, making floral arrangements and presents for family members and friends and making greeting cards. Let children help make cookies – it may take longer, the kitchen may need more cleaning, but the child will be happy and proud.
Surviving holidays and enjoying it
* 1. Every member of the family can list favourite holiday activities and rank them in order of importance.
* 2. Discuss everybody’s expectations. Plan activities so that every member fulfils at least one wish. Rule out wishes which are impossible to fulfil. Explain your children why you have done that. Negotiate until everybody in the family is happy with the plan.
* 3. Make your plans as simple as possible. December should not turn into a marathon. Plan time for rest and play with your children.
* 4. Decide who helps in each holiday activity. It is important that the whole family is involved, especially children.
* 5. Think about why you are doing it. If you are satisfied with the answer, keep on doing it. If not, stop and change something before anger and bitterness take over.
* 6. Work less and enjoy more. Do the most important things, neglect the rest for the time being. Nothing will happen if you do not wash up immediately after lunch.
* 7. Relax and enjoy. Stressed parents transfer their stress on the rest of the family. Festive, relaxed parent creates much better atmosphere in which both children and parents spend better quality time
Make a story book about family holiday tradition
* 1. Take several photos which show involvement in family rituals (e.g.: decorating the Christmas tree, baking cookies, visiting relatives and friends…)
* 2. Stick the photos on pigmented sheets of paper.
* 3. Ask children for photos descriptions and write them under the photos.
* 4. Together, give the book a title and create the title page. Bind it.
* 5. Enjoy by recollecting special family moment together.
If your child is very young (up to two), try to avoid changing the child’s habits, especially feeding and bed times. Children are often moody, surly, weepy and sensitive during holidays. They are overwhelmed with emotions which may be negative if their needs are ignored.
Avoiding holidays over-excitement in children
A usual pitfall during holidays, especially for very young children, is over-excitement. Then, children get many good things in a short period of time. Whether holiday experiences and emotions are going to be over-whelming for your children, depends on their temperament.
Parents can best estimate how much stimulation their child can take. If your child’s good mood depends on taking a nap at 3 p.m., do not take the child shopping Christmas presents at that time expecting that the child will enjoy it. If your child is very sensitive and easily gets excited, ask your relatives not to come for Christmas dinner all at once. If you make a structured plan and set boundaries for yourself and other family members, then your one-year-old baby will not suffer for the holiday celebration of adults.
Help the child to maintain the usual rhythm of eating and sleeping during holidays. It is good if children, despite the increased intake of sweets at that time, still have their main meals at usual times and get the usual amount of sleep. If the children go to the kindergarten or have a nanny, it is good to maintain that routine. A one-year-old’s exposure to stress at some time during the holidays is very likely to happen. Good planning can help prevent it from happening.
Preventing children’s over-stimulation during holidays
* Take children for a walk. Even if it is cold, fresh air and change of environment will do good both to you and to your children.
* Sit together in a quiet corner and leaf through a favourite picture-book. Let the child rest from the same sort of simulation – do not use Christmas picture books all the time.
* Make your child a warm bath to relax.
* Put the child to bed to relax and have a nap. It will create a distance from over-excitement, even if the child needs more time to relax and fall asleep.
* If you are under stress, ask someone to baby-sit your children for an hour or two. You might organise it with parents who have a child of similar age. The following day you can baby sit their child. This way both you and they can have a break.
* Take care that during the holidays your children are not bored. Give them tasks, e.g. let them put cookies on a tray. It will give children a feeling of contribution to the celebration.
* If the child still has a pacifier, it should be close by all the time. During holiday excitement, the pacifier soothes the child in case of overwhelming feelings.
* During the day, sit in a quiet corner and offer your child a favourite sweet, fruit or juice.
Divorced parents and holidays
It can be very difficult for children of divorced parents during holidays. Co-operative parents can alleviate their children’s coping with the situation.
* Talk to your ex partner about how much you are willing to spend for presents and who will buy them.
* Be flexible. If the child is with you on Christmas eve, let it be with other parent on Christmas.
* Reassure the child that choosing between you and other parent is not necessary. ‘I know that mum misses you. You can and tell her you miss her, too.’
* If the child is not with you for the holiday, but with other parent, make sure you do not induce a feeling of guilt because you may have felt lonely (by saying e.g. ‘I was sad for Christmas because you were with dad.’). Concentrate on the quality time you are going to spend with your child.