Surviving & thriving in the holidays

Help yourself to happy holidays

Getting through the long summer holidays with kids with additional needs of all kinds is enough to challenge any parent.
Six weeks can feel like an eternity. There’s so many days to fill, and what if it rains?
As a single mum I spent many years dreading the summer holidays, and over time gradually learned & evolved strategies that could help both my daughter and I have a better time.
Here are some tried and trusted ways of making things easier for yourself, so that you and your kids can spend some quality time together enjoying yourselves, and make the holidays pass in a relatively stress-free manner.

1. Get up before your kids.
Waking up while the house is quiet, before mayhem breaks out, gives us a chance to think constructively and get ahead of the game. Even 15 minutes spent thinking about the day or week ahead in a peaceful environment, can transform the way they turn out.

2. Use music to set the tone.

When your kids are up and jumping about, get them to let off steam immediately with some energising music and stretching/ dance moves before breakfast. You could mix it up a bit with mini trampettes or blow up gym balls to bounce on. The exercise will oxygenate their brains, and the bouncing can be calming and alerting. It’s also great fun – you may want to join in!!

Use the positive power of music in the home throughout the day. Another really great time is during car rides. Many kids with additional needs absolutely love car rides with music. Get them involved in choosing and bringing their favourite tapes along. Singing along is a great way to make long journeys pass more pleasantly.

3. Eat healthy!

While a quick bowl of cereal may seem like an easy option, especially during the morning rush of term time, cereals are often packed with sugar to make them enticing. A blood-sugar spike early in the day will inevitably lead to a sugar crash later on, and moody, grumpy kids (& parents) could be just the result you don’t want. (sorry sugary cereal manufacturers!)
Try finding low or no sugar alternatives, preferably the wholemeal versions, and getting the kids involved in choosing and making their own breakfast.
There is plenty of evidence to show that a high protein, high vitamin breakfast is one way to enhance your thinking and staying power throughout the day.

There’s a heap of advice on diet for kids with additional needs in Additude magazine; click here to learn more breakfast tips.

For your own sanity keep food simple and healthy, and do your shopping in as few runs as possible.

I have experienced many less than ideal occasions, from shopping with a child who would rather be anywhere else in the world than in a shop, and is liable to duck off behind the aisles at any moment. Less is definitely more!

4.Use visual timetables.

For many kids with additional needs, uncertainty over what is happening next can play a huge part in how anxious they feel, which can result in increases in unmanageable behaviour as their anxiety escalates. To help them feel more relaxed, try creating a simple visual chart so everyone knows what the plan for the day/ week is. Just a basic board with spaces for morning, afternoon and evening, with the positions of mealtimes indicated, helps reduce uncertainty and can form a talking point if you get asked the inevitable, ” What are we doing today mum, dad?”

If you use re-usable stick-on photos or pictures, then you also have a handy way to involve your kids in discussions about what they would like to be doing next.

You can take photos of the good times you have together, and use them on the timetable, or add as another scrapbook activity you can do on a rainy day as a record of your holiday times together. This can be a great memory jogger when it comes to next year as well!

5. Give your kids quality time early in the day.

After much trial and error I found that giving my daughter some quality “mum time” early on in the day, gave her the stimulation and reassurance she needed, so that she was able to go on to do other activities more independently, as the day progressed.

6. Plan time outside

Get outside in the fresh air and sun as much as possible and have fun! There are huge health and well-being benefits to spending time outside every day if the weather permits. With a picnic rug for parents to sit on, the play park or nearest green space can provide hours of accessible activity for youngsters with plenty of energy. If you are lucky enough to live near the coast then what could be better than the beach in summer? Depending on the age ranges and abilities /inclinations of your kids there are hundreds of things to be done outside. Balls, bats, sticky bats, chalks, sticks, skittles, bowls, bean bags are just a few of the wide range of flexible activities available.

Energetic activities can be interspersed with quieter time, making or collecting or drawing things. If your kids are older take them on an adventure or organise a treasure hunt with clues. There are some good books available on the subject if you are short of ideas: e.g.  for the younger children click here

For older kids try these: 101 Things Kids Do Outside

and Go Wild! : 101 Things to do Outdoors before you Grow Up

There are plenty of ideas in these suggestions as well as ideas for rainy days.

7. Play games.

Even if it’s the very last thing you feel like doing, have a few games, action rhymes or songs up your sleeve that you know will appeal to your child/children for different situations.

Games have many positive benefits, and they don’t all need to be done solo from an iPad or phone! Playing with others will teach your kids many skills including the invaluable art of getting along with other people and how to lose gracefully!

8. Encourage choice making.

Build in plenty of occasions where your child can have a choice between different things to do. This helps build up their self-esteem and confidence, as well as making them think about and practice making choices and understanding the consequences.

9. Enlist the help of others.

Trying to do it all on your own can be too much!  If you’re a single parent like I was for many years, you can all too easily end up feeling isolated and like no-one understands you. Reach out to the other parents you meet, join a local support group or play scheme if your kids are younger, and then they can grow up with other kids they are familiar with, even if you can only get together in holidays and half-terms. It can be an idea to spread these contacts wider than the sphere of just within school friends, and can broaden your kids and your own horizons.

You could offer to help with child minding, and set up reciprocal arrangements so you parents can give each other a well-deserved break.

10. Allow down time

Make sure you plan in some down-time into your holiday periods. You aren’t obliged to be on the go the whole time, and as I discovered, you will soon come to the end of your tethers if you try to cram too much in.

For kids as well, down time has been shown to stimulate creative thinking and is a time for them to re-charge their batteries with the pressure off.

11. Make contingency plans.

Having a back up plan is a good idea, especially with our summer weather being so unpredictable. There are other occasions, apart from rainy days, where you may find it helpful to have an alternative up your sleeve, for if things don’t turn out the way you hoped.

Kids can get sick unexpectedly, or hurt themselves and need a visit to A&E, or throw a wobbly at the thought of entering that exciting dark science museum you just paid a small fortune to get in to, only to have them want to leave again immediately, and if you don’t they will let everyone in a half mile radius know just what a mean, cruel mummy you are in their best, extreeemely loud shouting voice!!

However well we try and plan things, there are times when it’s not going to work out, but hey! Life happens after all. Sometimes we may need to retreat to the nearest source of sustenance, and just decide to give up and try again another day.

I wish you happy holidays 🙂