By Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed., Parent Coach
School will soon be out, and parents need some handy tips for surviving and even thriving during summer with the kids. Maybe you’re anticipating some intense behaviors from your children when there’s less structure and more down time. Or you might be planning a long car or plane trip with them, and would love to know how to make it go better than that last “eventful” trip to Grandma’s.
Here are some helpful hints for keeping the fun alive by reducing the potential for meltdowns, sibling arguments, and non-compliance this summer.
1. Plan ahead WITH your kids, so they know what to expect. Intense kids do not respond well to surprises. Put a calendar next to their beds, so they know what tomorrow brings.
2. Remember, there is no substitute for sleep. If your child is cranky, lying down may be the only solution. Try to avoid sleep deprivation by keeping the kids on a regular sleep schedule, even when they are having fun. The payoffs will be enormous.
3. Take time for yourself. Do not let all the “pulls” of summer activities wear you down. Take a relaxing bath, sit outside with no media and listen to nature, read a novel, enjoy the present moment.
4. Whenever your usually inflexible child weathers a change with no storm, give him or her heartfelt appreciation: “When you realized our plans had changed, and you stayed so calm, I was really impressed!” This could be right before you see her start to wind up. Any opportunity to reward success will be golden!
5. Put the kids in charge of their sibling issues. Say in advance, “I know you have disagreements sometimes, and I trust you to work them out in nice language. If you really need help, I’m here, but mostly I think you can do this.” When an issue arises, simply say, “How do you want to handle that with Christina?”
6. To kids, summer feels like the time for relaxation and NOT taking orders. Be sure to acknowledge that your children need down time to lie on their backs and stare at the clouds, and make a point to allow for it. Say, “This is your own afternoon off, and you can do whatever you want to with it.” When the need for self-direction gets met, the willingness to take direction from others can increase.
7. Get comfortable with dirt. It’s summer, and dirt is a sure sign your kids are engaging with nature and enjoying themselves!
For the summer trip with your children: Stop and think about whether you are feeling excited or anxious about it. If you’re anxious, read on …
As with all issues with challenging behavior, a new way of thinking about your experience with
your child can be very helpful. To re-think a vacation may seem difficult, but rather than fill your mind with dread, imagine 10 hours in the car as a time to build family intimacy.
Here are 15 tips for making your trip the best it can be:
- A week before you leave, hold a family meeting that focuses on the trip. Have the children help you create a list of travel rules that start with “no”, and establish that a 30-second break will be the result of breaking a rule. Yes, the break can take place in the car, in a restaurant, at the water park, in the motel, with relatives present – wherever and whenever it is needed. And decide that it’s not a punishment. It’s simply” a procedure for what we do when we do something we don’t want to do.” Speak from the children’s perspective and predict their success: “We want you to have a wonderful time on our trip, and not be in trouble at all. We think vacation should be fun for you, and we know that you can be successful. Remember how fabulous you were when we went out to eat last week? This will be like that, only longer, with more chances to be successful.” Be sure that the rule list is in the car with you. One of the rules should be, “No not having fun.”
- Give each child a job for the trip. One child can keep track of where you are on the map. Another can be the one who hands everyone the snacks, and another can take pictures. Someone needs to journal about the trip, so have a spiral notebook handy. And older kids should take care of the needs of younger ones.
- Be sure that the kids have a seating arrangement that sets them up for success. If possible, seat them so that they cannot touch each other with hands or feet. If it’s not possible, make the rules about touching very, very clear. Mention that kind touching is welcome!
- Bring along plenty of workbooks, crayons, markers, and games. Limit screen time to one hour per day. Lap desks, with a flat surface on top and bean bag material on the bottom, work well in the car.
- Plan for car games, such as the old standby alphabet game. Some book suggestions are: Are We There Yet? by Richard Salter, The Rand McNally Kids’ Road Atlas, (Backseat Books) and The Amazing Backseat Booka-Ma-Thing (Klutz Press).
- Have a cooler with plenty of snacks and drinks. Include the kids’ input when you shop for these, but remind them in advance that there will be no junk food. Granola bars, trail mix, fruit, veggies, and juice with no high fructose corn syrup are ideal.
- Give heartfelt appreciation for kind words between the kids, sitting nicely, asking for things in a gentle tone of voice, and pointing out interesting sights. Say, “This is exactly what we decided on in our family meeting, and I could not be happier. I think it must make you happy, too.” (This is the “building family intimacy” part.)
- Keep your tone of voice the same – calm and relaxed – even when things go awry. You always have the choice to keep the emotion level low. Choose to let the kids know through your tone that nothing is going to spoil this good time, which is very reassuring to them.
- Make sure everyone has a pillow, and bring along their favorite blankets. Say, “I want you to be so comfortable in the car.”
- If a child asks the same thing over and over, first redirect the conversation to another interesting topic: “Show me what you drew on your paper,” or “Did you notice that the trees here are different from the ones near our house? I wonder what they call those trees.” And if your child persists, ask the question back with kindness. “You are wondering when we’re going to be there. I am wondering that, too! Who can help us figure this out?” Notice that you may need to take a running break if the issue is just too much time in the seat belt.
- Use this time together to talk about what you love about each child. The others will catch on to it, and begin to see what they love about one another, as well. “Cecily always wants to know where we are…she might be a travel guide or geography teacher some day!” “Brandon is our cleaner upper…do we ever love having him on our trip!” “Sam loves to point out the fun things he sees. I think he is a fabulous travel companion.”
- Travel time is an opportunity to cultivate healthy curiosity in children. They will have many opinions on what could be true. Don’t insist on being right all the time. Just let them have an opinion, and respond with, “I think that’s an interesting way to think about it,” or “You could be right about that.” Being right isn’t the most important thing. Learning to think creatively and question what you see in the world is.
- Let the kids know that this is your vacation, too. Plan for adult time in advance, and tell the children you will be taking it each day. If they can anticipate it, they are much more likely to accept it and comply with bedtime or mid-day downtime.
- Anticipation is always the key. If you talk about what will happen tomorrow, in an hour, or in five minutes, children have a much easier time accepting the changes. This is particularly true on vacation.
- Have fun yourself. Let the kids know that you are delighted when a bald eagle sails by, or you have a great trip down the water slide. Let them see that you are excited about a wonderful photo you took, or about a journal entry you made, or a meal that tastes exceptionally good to you. Share your inner world with them…that’s how they learn to enjoy themselves as adults one day.
Enjoy, and blog about your vacation successes on www.facebook.com/parentingmojo.
Tina Feigal is a parent coach and trainer at the Center for the Challenging Child, St. Paul, MN.