Staying sane in the summer – How to occupy young kids in the hols

Photo Credit: Brit, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Brit, Creative Commons

It’s day three of the holidays and the weather is not looking promising.

Your baby is learning to crawl into places not designed to be child friendly, your toddler is whining for something to eat – again – and has already had two toilet training mishaps this morning.  Meanwhile, your eldest has decided to make it his mission in life to annoy his siblings in any shape or form, which usually leads to the production of agonising shrieks several decibel levels beyond health and safety standards.

The house, which vaguely resembled some sense of order just a couple of hours ago, is now descending at break-neck speed into utter chaos. … And to think you used to be pretty organised and in control! And there’’s another 5 or so weeks of this to go still – Aaarrgggg! If you’’re in need of some ideas on how to navigate the jungle of kiddie-dom and survive the summer holidays, read on….

Devise a plan

Just like at school,– divide the day up into sessions. Morning, lunch, afternoon, tea. It may sound obvious, but it’’s easier to manage “chunks” of a day than thinking “what on earth am I going to do with the kids all day today?” It doesn’’t mean you have to micromanage every single activity your children are engaging in, it’’s more a case of being one step ahead when they seem fed up and start misbehaving: you’’ll already have something up your sleeve to help occupy them rather than despairing “over why they can’’t just go off and play nicely?” When you hear that wonderful phrase that you really wish your 4 year old hadn’’t learnt –  ““I’’m bored!””, you’’ll be able to come up with something of a convincing response. A great idea is to list all the various possible activities for indoor or outdoor play. You may be surprised at how long your list gets. Ours includes things like: make a poster, have a music/singing session, go for a long hike, and have a water pistol fight.

Boredom Busters

Save a couple of surplus toys or gifts from birthdays or summer fêtes especially for rainy days – e.g. play-dough kit, pack of cards, jigsaws. Alternatively, ask the grandparents to bring such items instead of sweets when they visit (this will have the added bonus of helping to keep their hyperactivity levels down). Or you can always go to the pound store one day and stock up on funky crayons, colouring books, bubbles and plasticine. Instead of just forming shapes with plasticine, my youngest son loved making imprints with various toys and models. Think creative.

Sure-fire hits (for free)

I’’ve never met a child that doesn’’t enjoy hide and seek or a good old tickle fight. You will be one popular parent if you’’re willing to do some silly stuff with your kids occasionally. The squeals may be loudest when you chase them around the house wearing a makeshift mask and wielding a tea-towel or a cardboard tube, but the smiles will be worth it! Another idea for older ones: get them to set up an assault course in the garden and have fun with a stopwatch to see how quickly they can complete the course. Dressing up & role play can also be fun for all ages up to 10; you can enjoy creating outfits from some old clothes or curtains. And don’’t underestimate the fun to be had from setting up “camp” in the living room or under the dining table.

Always go out

Even if it means digging out wellies from the cupboard and huddling under umbrellas in pouring rain to post some letters and pick up some milk from the corner shop. The day will go much quicker if you get out even for only half an hour. All day stuck inside with one, two or more kids is enough to drive even the sanest of people somewhat stir crazy. You never know, you may even bump into another adult for a couple of minutes of real conversation! However, don’t be tempted to consider prolonged shopping sprees as a viable way to pass the time! Try to keep visits into town short and sweet, leaving enough time to get back home before a toddler starts kicking off. As ever, timing is crucial.

Go on a picnic

You get fresh air, a chance for running off beans and all the crumbs cleared up in one easy move. Phone a friend to join you, and then you’’ve also got someone to watch your kids if you need to take one to the loo or change someone’’s nappy. We do picnics at least once a week during the hols, and sometimes have a picnic in the garden as a spin off version.

Bargain with the older ones

For example… ‘If you want me to play swingball, Pop-Up-Pirate or build Lego with you, please put away XYZ first, or play with the baby for 15 minutes first. Oh, you’’d like an ice-lolly? Absolutely, why not! But first you need to clear up all those crayons and cut up pieces of paper’. Don’t just give them something for nothing all the time (apart from love, that is). That way, they’’ll learn some responsibility as they grow up and start to see that life doesn’’t revolve around them and their wants.

Play dates

Even though the noise gets doubled and the possibilities for arguments increase, you’’ll get a buzz out of seeing that your kids actually aren’’t the naughtiest in the world and at the same time enjoy being with someone taller than three foot who’’s capable of discussing something more intelligible than Moshie Monsters or The Hoobs. You’’ll come home feeling somewhat revived and cheerful too, having spent an afternoon with a fellow parent. Just avoid talking about the kids all the time; how about politics, gardening or the theatre for a change?

Save the TV or DVDs…

…For when you desperately need some peace and quiet or when a young one really needs to calm down from a busy day. It’’s also great to save it till 30 minutes before you go out. Kids get a chance to recharge their batteries before, say charging around the park, while you get the chance to get all your stuff ready without little ones distracting you every 6.4 seconds. So – use TV time to suit YOU and your plans, not just because your child feels like it at any random moment.

Say yes to offers of help that come your way

…whether it’s that older friend from toddler group, mother-in-law, nice neighbour down the street, or even your partner willing to take off Wednesday morning to give you a break in the week. And if you see a holiday club advertised outside a local church, where your school-aged children can go for free for a couple of hours each day, then why haven’t you signed up for it yet? (Just check their credentials and procedures for child protection to ensure they’’re worthy of taking care of your precious offspring.)

Be voucher savvy

Be sure to cut out and save coupons or vouchers for the occasional trip to the zoo or theme park. They tend to be found in mags such as the ‘Term Times’ which are given out to school children. Doing so could well save you quite a few pounds and pence, leaving you with some extra cash for ice lolllies and other treats.

So let the fun begin, and at the end of each day make sure you reserve some time and energy for a child-free pursuit that you enjoy. And remember – even if your day has seemed like a bit of a disaster – each morning is a fresh start to think positively and a chance to re-connect with your children by engaging in their world.

This article first appeared in the now defunct webzine ‘LookingatLife’ in 2008, under the heading ‘How to Occupy Your Kids’. This is an amended version.

Bartoli and the BBC/ Words Matter

Marion Bartoli and Andy Murray at the Champions’ Ball

I dread to think what I’d look like sans make-up in a white mini skirt on Centre Court at Wimbledon, having run around like crazy, swiping balls back at my opponent for an hour and a half. Add in a few frowns of concentration and some beads of perspiration, along with several focused grimaces, and I’m quite sure I’d not look a pretty sight.

Most of us accept the fact that Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Women’s Singles champion, was not on court to look pretty and that that was the last thing on her mind throughout the tournament. Yet some of the vitriol directed at her by mindless would-be commentators at home and the thoughtless comment from the BBC’s John Inverdale, suggesting live on air that she was not much of a ‘looker’ is shocking and regrettable. No wonder 674 viewers responded irately to the insensitive gaffe. I didn’t come across any unkind comments in the news regarding male players’ appearance or attractiveness. Bartoli’s stunning transformation at the Winner’s ball after the Championship may well have silenced some of her critics, but I don’t see why she had to prove anything at all. It’s not like she had tried to win a modelling contract; she’s a tennis player for goodness sake!

Fact is, there are times when we should just keep our thoughts to ourselves. What right do any of us have to name call and belittle others on the basis of their appearance? Unfortunately Bartoli’s experience was not unique to her; countless women face judgements on their looks on a daily basis. Female politicians and high profile women in media or business are frequently subjected to commentary on their appearance rather than their capabilities. The rise in social media has in no small part contributed to people’s tendency to broadcast mean or critical comments that they wouldn’t dream of vocalising in public.

Although Inverdale and the BBC have apologised for the above quote, the effects of the words still linger. I once read an analogy about the power of words, likening them to toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube. Once the substance has come out, it’s incredibly difficult to push it back in without leaving a big mess. That’s what our words are like. We may try to retract them or to apologise, but once they’ve passed our lips (or keyboard), they are hard to ignore or forget.

I’m aware of this myself, having spoken countless thoughtless words and regretted them. Thankfully, I don’t appear on live TV or radio and only a few have been on the receiving end of my ill advised comments or outbursts.  I’m reminded of the old adage, favoured by grannies and those of a previous era: “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” Wouldn’t it be good if that once again became a consistent maxim for the media – and for the rest of us – to follow before rushing to make announcements about people’s outward appearance? The BBC could perhaps also consider whether its presenters would benefit from some refresher training courses in how to avoid sexism and inappropriate comments.

The Money Trap – Why politicians’ pay should not be attractive


In the news this week there is much furore over the issue of MPs being awarded a potential £10,000 pay rise. This at a time of major cuts and austerity across public services in a drive to reduce the national debt.

As their current salary stands at £66,396, MPs already earn nearly £40,000 above the national average, and with a plethora of perks – such as travel expenses and an additional residence in London – it would seem that a career in politics is quite an attractive option.

Which is exactly what we don’t want.

We need the right calibre of people going in to politics, to lead the country well and to make the decisions which benefit us all. Those with noble intentions and worthy characteristics such as integrity, wisdom, diligence and a genuine concern for their constituents. Those who are more concerned with doing the right thing than obsessing over their public image or the desire to climb the political ladder. MPs who will follow their convictions rather than the party whip; who will speak their minds rather than contrived political sound bites.

Thankfully, we still have some such politicians, though I fear they are becoming a minority.

What kind of leaders will govern us from Parliament if an MP’s salary becomes around two and a half times that of a teacher? (Teacher earning approx 31k in inner London after a few years.) Unfortunately, corruption and cockiness spring to mind.

Perhaps MPs should consider drastically reducing their pay to match that of teachers and nurses – those who generally go into the profession for commendable motives, and who want to make a difference.

It seems that now would be a good time to start a major shake-up in British politics if the government is to revive any widespread trust and hope in their leadership.

Of course, MPs deserve a decent salary. But it shouldn’t draw in those merely looking to carve out a career and a name for themselves. We’re getting tired of spin and shame in politics – across all parties and persuasions. In order to restore faith in our political system, measures must be taken to ensure that the quality of candidates applying for the job matches our expectations for the role. Those seeking monetary gain or fame need not apply.

ETA: A few days on, and now we read of MPs and Cabinet ministers claiming additional expenses for their children (housing and travel).