Surviving the summer holidays with the kids

Steven Michaëlis

(Article in the July 2009 issue of Genç Gelişim)

Now that the children are at home for the long summer holidays, life can become a real struggle. With the routine of school attendance gone, children can become bored, behaviour often deteriorates, tempers flare up and family harmony is under threat. What should be a joyous time off school for the children and an opportunity for the parents to be more with their offspring, can easily become a long drawn-out period of trench warfare between two opposing camps. Follow the five simple steps described below to start the peace process at home and achieve a more loving and rewarding family life during the summer holidays.

Step 1. Understand your own needs and the behaviour of your child.

Do you find yourself reacting to your child in the same way each time and achieving little except yet another upset or conflict? Then it's time to take a deep breath and start acting in a different way. If you literally take a deep breath before reacting to your child and take a moment to think of what is really important to you, then you can break the vicious circle that leads so often to conflict in the family. Then take another moment to think of what your child wants. Remember that all behaviour, even when it is totally unacceptable to you, makes sense to the child at that point in time. Try to imagine what the need of the child is that makes it behave in the way it does. Now you are in a much better position to start acting in an effective way, rather than reacting as an auto-pilot parent.

Step 2. Deal effectively with feelings, anger and conflict.

Do you get upset yourself when your child is crying, gets angry or starts a fight? Find out what's behind your own emotions and start dealing with the feelings of your child. Taking a deep breath and a moment before reacting as described in Step 1 will give us time to recognise if we are being sucked into being overly emotionally ourselves. If we become too emotional, then communication is likely to break down and the best option is to simply acknowledge to our child how we feel without trying to achieve the original objective. Likewise, if our child is very emotional, then he won't be in the right frame of mind to follow any instructions we give him. Simply acknowledge his emotions by saying something like “I can see you are very upset right now” and wait till your child becomes more composed before trying to achieve anything.

Step 3. Hear what your child says and speak so your child listens.

Is your child not listening to you and do you feel you have lost all control? Here is a simple way to get through and start communication with your child. If you follow Steps 1 and 2 then you are ready to start communicating effectively with your child. Children are not so different from ourselves, they like to be heard and acknowledged which in turn will encourage them to listen more to you. So before jumping in with what you want to say or instruct, take a moment to acknowledge where your child is at that moment, along the lines of “I can see you're really enjoying making those drawings at the moment”, or “I can hear you want to finish watching this programme before going to bed”. By acknowleding the child's point of view, we build trust and respect, that will help the child to trust and respect our point of view too.

Step 4. Solve problems and encourage co-operation.

Do you feel it's up to you alone to solve all problems and clear up the mess your child leaves behind him? Stop being an unpaid slave and motivate your child to help you. Now that we have started to communicate with our child in a better way, we can use our new found skills to resolve problems and ask for help. Try this 'formula' when your child does something you don't like:

  • A. Give a short, specific description of the unacceptable behaviour;
  • B. Mention the effect or consequence of the behaviour;
  • C. Tell your child how you feel;
  • D. Ask your child to help you.

It could go like this “When you took the milk from the fridge you accidentally spilled some (A), which means someone has to clean the floor before it gets sticky (B). I really feel tired having to clean up all the time (C) and I wonder if you can help me clean the floor (D). By being specific, factual, clear about your own feelings and by asking for help, we stop blaming our child and will in time improve their behaviour.

Step 5. Set boundaries and give freedom.

Who's the boss in the house and how do you encourage your child to take more responsibility for his own life? Time to be both firm and gentle. Consider which regular conflict issues are of paramount importance to you. These will probably centre around issues of safety and basic family values. Using the formula in Step 4, convey these fundamental values to your child. Your child may not acknowledge it openly, but all children like firm boundaries. Once you have set clear boundaries, it is also much easier to give areas of freedom to your child. How much freedom you allow them depends obviously on their age and abilities, but consider that a new born baby has no responsibilities at all, while a young adult in his late teens will need to take responsibility in almost all areas of his life.

Effective parenting involves more than just loving your child. For every parent it is a journey of discovery, finding out how we react ourselves, learning to see the world from the perspective of our child, overcoming our own reactions to negative feelings such as anger and conflict, acquiring effective communication skills that bring results, being creative in building a team spirit in the family and moving on from being wholly responsible for a little baby to respecting our child and giving it more freedom as it grows up.

Nobody said bringing up a child would be easy, quick or without struggles, but by applying the latest findings in child psychology and parenting skills it is possible to raise a confident and communicative child that will do well at school and is a joy at home, while at the same time feeling good about ourself as a parent. Take this opportunity to start implementing some of these new ideas in your family and survive the summer holidays with the kids.

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