I know that many of us dread the kindy and school holidays. Weeks without a break from the kids. For me, I always see it from a different perspective. For me, the school holidays mean no packed lunches, no homework and no pressured timetable. So I love school holidays!

The other thing I love about school holidays is it gives us time to pay attention to some aspects of parenting that we may simply not have time to focus on in a busy most-of-the-year life. Whether our children are two, eighteen or anything in between, we can use this down-time to notice skills that they may have missed out on and help them catch up.

Doing as Told

Whenever I give parenting seminars, whenever I counsel parents, the underlying question almost always seems to be, “how can I get my children to do as they are told?”

The basic principle for all ages is:

ASK once, in a pleasant voice;
TELL by going over to your child and quietly and firmly putting your request again; then
ACT by making sure that nothing happens until that request is fulfilled (i.e. Time Out till that is done).

Whether Time Out is popping a toddler in their cot, sending a five-year-old to their room, or simply getting busy and being unavailable for the supply of goods or services to an older child, the principle is the same. In an ideal world, once a parent has made a request, nothing else happens till that request is fulfilled.

Not surprisingly, the first question that all busy parents ask is, ‘but what if I have to get out the door?’ Holiday time is magic for convincing children that you can wait them out. Make the request – or requests – ‘before we can go out, I need you dressed, bed made, teeth cleaned, room tidy’; get yourself ready and sit down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper and look as if you don’t have a care in the world – fake it if necessary!

Of course there will be lots of wailing and moaning and procrastinating. If you are dealing with more than one child, there will be lots of blaming and whinging and, ‘it’s not fair.’

Smile, drink and read. Your children will soon get the message that it is holiday time, and you are no longer subject to the tyranny of the timetable.

Teaching Skills

We are blessed with a tiny one-room bach (“crib” for our South Islanders) right on the beach at Waiwera. It would be the closest thing you can get to a tent with an indoor loo, shower, kitchen sink and fridge. Tiny as it is, it is possible to sleep seven teens on the floor (grown-ups get the beds) provided that they sleep packed like sardines and the grown-ups can step over them on the way to the loo. It is wonderful to have a full house and to remind yourself that teenagers are not the inconsiderate, loud, aggressive, mono-syllabic thugs that fill our newspapers, but are actually delightful, civilised people who are a pleasure to have around.

With this number, you can only begin to imagine the washing-up after meals. My experience has been that they are willing to help and pleased to contribute but, in this day of dishwashers, entirely lack the skills to rinse and stack huge columns of handwashing in a tiny space.

And the point is? Holidays are great for having time to notice the skills – be they bed making, washing dishes, emptying dishwashers, taking care of laundry, washing cars, weeding, or culinary skills – that you haven’t had time to teach your children during busy non-holiday life. Ignore the bleats of “But it’s my holiday.” The best answer I can think of is, “Irrelevant!”

Sharing the Load

I have tried many and varied task charts and rosters with limited or no success. There was one, however, when our children were somewhere between ten and twelve that had the greatest success and lasted for many months. It happened when I was so exhausted and so fed up and felt so “used” that I sat down and made a list of all the tasks that I did to keep the household running.

I then sat down with the children and invited them to take turns at opting in for what they wanted to do (I was happy to take the least desirable tasks! That always goes down well!) Pretty soon, we had a morning and afternoon set of tasks for children and adults, none of which individually took more than about ten minutes of a willing child’s time, which meant that I did not need to feel that I was the only one doing the work. My recommendation is that you call a review meeting after five or six days to appreciate successes and set up a swap system so that the children continue to feel that they have some say in what they do, while continuing to participate in the running of the household.

One of the best holidays I can remember is when five mothers and seventeen children – ranging in ages from one to sixteen – went for a seaside winter holiday together. (No! It wasn’t in our one-room bach). Right from the start, rosters were posted and every child could see what was required of them and the fairness of everyone having a turn. Most teams consisted of a teen and littlie and an in-between so that learning and responsibility were a natural combination.

Start the day right

I well recall holidays – and still fall into the trap – beginning by everybody lounging around in pyjamas, beds unmade, dishes undone, generally entitled, ‘let’s just have a lovely relaxing time.’ For two or three days, this can be absolutely delightful but I have noticed that, after the fourth or fifth day, the novelty of finding yourself still pyjama-ed, unkempt and chaotic wears off and everyone tends to get terribly disgruntled.

As soon as you find yourself irritated, switch to, ‘everyone get dressed, get through your tasks, tidy up…and then we have time for games and morning tea or going out.’

If all this sounds horribly preachy, I apologise; but it is amazing how, when the tasks are done and the house is organised, you and your children are free to have an excellent and relaxing time.

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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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