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Stressed about summer with the kids? How to make the next few weeks a success for all the family

Summer can seem like a difficult time to be a parent, but it doesn’t need to be.

THE LONG SUMMER holidays from school are here – an annual occurrence that brings with it polarising feelings for children and their parents.

For kids, this is the best time of the year. Two months (three if they’re in the junior cycle
of secondary school) of carefree, structureless days when the sun never stops shining and
anything can happen.

For parents the vast swathe of time without the safety net of a classroom can come piled
high with guilt and stress.

How can you be a happy, anxiety-free parent during July and August? Here are three
simple steps to summer happiness – all you need to know to make these holidays good ones.

Step 1:

Go easy on yourself (the most important step of all). You know those people who post beautiful photos on social media of their family tucking into a gourmet picnic while hiking in the Comeraghs?

What they chose not to share was the temper-tantrum little Jimmy threw when they tried to get him into the car to even go on the trip or the row when they got lost on the way because Dad flatly refused to use the sat-nav (even though he clearly hadn’t a clue where he was going).

Part of Step 1 involves reciting this mantra: I love my kids and they love me even when we scream at one another and I think I never want to see them again.

It is worth remembering that most family therapists recommend emotional honesty – so a bit of shouting and roaring is actually beneficial, as long as no one holds a grudge and everyone hugs and makes up when it’s over.

Step 2:

Bribery is good. You want your kids to get outside in the sunshine, they want to
watch Netflix and play the Xbox.

How about a reward system: two hours playing outside (without a device) will earn them fifteen minutes of screen-time later on?

And the experts suggest we should place some limits on that screen-time. The World Health Organisation, in a study carried out with the American Heart Association in 2018, has proposed a threshold of one hour maximum with a device for kids from two to five, 90 minutes for children aged five to eight, and two hours for those aged eight to whatever age you can still exert some control.

That study showed that kids from 8 to 18 are spending as much as seven hours in front of screens, and the best way to dissuade them from this habit is to minimise the amount of time we as adults spend on our devices when they’re with us.

How about some family rules (which everyone will commit to) about no phones or tablets at the dinner table? And while you’re it, put down some other device free time periods throughout the day? (a parenting site moderated by social workers and family therapists)
suggests technology free spaces in the home – particularly bedrooms.

Think about it. If you don’t charge your phone or tablet in your bedroom, you’re going to be far less tempted to update your social media or send emails in the middle of the night.

Parents4success (a family support group from the UK) proposes screen-free days, where play dates with other kids are arranged and time is spent arranging and planning outdoor based, technology-free fun.

Coming up with activities during outdoor time is great, but it is also important that children learn how to amuse themselves. Having some basic play equipment outside (such as bikes, balls, racquets or swings) should be enough for your little darlings to come up with any number of games all by themselves.

From time to time (when you have 10 minutes to spare) pop out and join in. Show them how to expand a game or take an activity in a new direction and then leave them to play by themselves.

During family days out, devices can be used in the car during the drive there and back, but absolutely no phones/tablets when you arrive.

Step 3:

Ask for (and be prepared to accept) help. If you are a working parent, you simply
cannot be everywhere and do everything. Nana and grandad will probably be happy to help out with childcare over the summer months, but they have lives too so there is no shame using summer camps, kids clubs and friends to take up some of the slack.

A lot of creches run summer programmes for school-age kids, which will have been properly vetted and are required to adhere to national guidelines for curriculums and health and safety.

Despite what you might think, sending your kids to some form of daycare over the summer months will not cause emotional damage, so stop feeling guilty about it.

In fact, having other kids their own age to play with and a well-trained and experienced team of play-leaders will be a positive experience for them. You can maximise the time you do have together in the evenings by eating together or playing a family board game before bed.

Enjoy the summer everyone – it should be a great time for all the family. 

Shane Dunphy is a child protection expert and author. He is Head of the Social Care Department at Waterford College of Further Education. 

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