It’s not that complicated for parents and kids to have a happy, satisfying school holiday together, according to parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson.
And it doesn’t have to cost the earth, either.
In a chat with Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings, Dr Coulson – who’s a dad to six girls – said a little basic proactivity and forward-planning can go a long way towards fighting the ‘I’m-Bored’-Blues. He suggested the following three steps to a happy school holiday.
Step 1: Limit The Kids’ Screen Time
One of the first things Dr Coulson advises parents, is to limit the amount of time they spend on screens and devices – “for their sanity and yours”.
“I know the TV and the screens and the devices and all that stuff make life easy, but in the long run they actually make things harder,” he said. “So make sure they’ve got a good balance.”
In an article on his Happy Families website, Dr Coulson said that excessive screen time is associated with several problems in children “including (but not limited to) poorer speech and language skills in young children, poorer social skills in older children, poorer academic outcomes, lack of sleep, poorer health, and increased risk of depression and anxiety”.
In an article about appropriate time limits on screens and mobile devices, Dr Coulson encourages parents to remember that “time off screens allows for more relationships to develop and deepen, creativity to evolve, and physical activity to take place”.
He encourages parents to set up tech-free zones, avoid using technology as a babysitter or stress-reliever, and allow them to use devices in a positive way, within boundaries.
“The responsibility is ours – as parents,” he writes. “We must establish rules about media and phone use and monitor adherence to those rules, with clear consequences if the rules are not kept.”
Step 2: Get Creative With Holiday Activities
Come up with fun activities you can do with your children, and plan for time around them, Dr Coulson said.
“I think the most important thing for kids – if you can be around and be available – is that you do at least something with them each day.”
“Getting outside, going for a bike ride going for a walk, just doing something. They’re going to make a mess, deal with it. Kids are not meant to be tidy all the time. Get the kids together with their friends, get them outside, get them having fun, away from the screens – and make it a holiday.”
A few suggestions include
- Go outside for a walk around your local area. Walk the dog while the kids ride their bikes. Explore streets you’ve never been down before. Chat with the kids about their favourite houses, gardens and street names.
- Take the kids for a day walk in a National Park or on a beach. Pack a picnic lunch to save money. Come up with a ‘treasure hunt’ list of things they can look out for on their walk. At the end of the walk share a reward like an ice-cream, or sit down together to make a video or photo album from the day.
- Have a “Crafternoon” – an afternoon of craft. Pull out all the craft and art supplies, look up a few creative ideas on the internet or at the library, and create something memorable.
- Hold a bake-off. Let the kids loose in the kitchen to cook something. Supply them with ingredients, recipes and ideas. “They’re going to make a mess, deal with it,” says Dr Coulson. “Kids are not meant to be tidy all the time.” At the end of their session, turn up the music and help them clean up.
- Open the games cupboard and get your kids playing the simple old-fashioned entertainment you used to enjoy yourself as a kid. Games like Kerplunk, Jenga, Pick-Up-Sticks, Scrabble, board games or card games will wake up parts of their brain that often don’t get used during the normal daily routine.
Step 3: Remember, Boredom Isn’t Bad
While you can plan ahead to fight the boredom blues, remember that it’s actually okay for your kids to get a bit listless.
“Boredom’s not a bad thing at all,” Dr Coulson said. “If you’re in an area where you can let your kids roam the streets a little bit, and they’re big enough to do that, or they’ve got enough friends where you feel comfortable letting them do that, that’s wonderful.”
“We want our kids to actually be a bit creative and explore a bit, and to be bored and 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 got something to do every minute of every day.
“Obviously younger kids need more time and focus and attention but as they get older, give them some space.”