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.
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’. Dont 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.
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 havent 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.