School holidays: 5 ways for families to stress less

If you have school-aged kids, chances are you have a love-hate relationship with school holidays. Of course we all love hanging out with our kids, especially with the reduced demands that come with holidays. But sometimes exactly these reduced demands are what can wreak havoc on our littlies’ emotional regulation. Which translates to tricky behaviours and meltdowns. If your kiddos get a bit stressed when the everyday routine of school is removed, you probably find school holidays can be a bit of a drag for everyone involved at times.

A good way to understand this is to think about how much a child might rely on the structure and predictability that going to school every day offers. As adults, we might see toddling off to school every day as a bore but your child might see it as a safe-haven where the routines and rituals of timetables, specialist classes, recess and lunch provide predictability and thus calmness.

If this is all sounding familiar consider some of these ideas to try replicating the sameness that school provides in a bid to decrease your littlie’s (or biggie’s!) anxiety:

  • Get a schedule. Sort out what your child is going to be doing every day of the holiday period. For younger children, just make a visual schedule with a picture (or pictures) depicting what will happen each day of the week. You can whip something up quickly like in the picture below or you can get fancy and take photos etc. The important thing is that you talk your child through the schedule/calendar and explain what the week is going to look like. Older children can probably just refer to a calendar with written activities.

visual schedule handmade

  • Schedule some down-time for your child to just be at home. The benefits of this are that he or she has time to process information and not be in an overstimulating/overwhelming environment. Depending on the child this might be something that needs to happen every day or every couple of days.
  • Set up clear house rules so your kids can have a reminder about what is/is not appropriate. Pair this with a reward chart to increase structure and have clear expectations – just like at school. Be consistent and follow through with rewards and consequences.
  • Plan for each day to fit into a vague routine – for some families this might look like: breakfast, outside play, morning tea, inside play, lunch, rest time, go to the park, dinner, bath, stories, bed. Children who know what to expect each day will show less symptoms of anxiety.
  • Be proactive and talk with your child about appropriate ways to express their feelings. You might talk about things like “in the holidays you might have some big feelings because things are going to be different. If you have big feelings that you don’t know what to do with, it’s cool for you to go into your chill-out tent and have some down time. It’s not okay for you to hit or hurt anyone”. Sit down and think about ways your child can express themselves safely.

The general theme here is preparing your child for what’s going to happen over the holidays, increasing structure and giving them a way to express their feelings. Lots of acknowledgement of emotions and teaching appropriate ways to express feelings will never go astray.

Good luck!

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist and founder of the Northern Centre for Child Development in Preston (Melbourne). She is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for client consultations.

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