School holidays are an interesting time of year. On one hand, school holidays are synonymous with the beach and letting the kids run wild around the caravan park. But on the other hand, school holidays can be a time that really tests our relationship with our children, and our ability to handle conflict and stress as a family.

Every January, if I am not at the aforementioned beach or caravan park myself, I find myself busy at work helping families that have found the increased time together has left everyone feeling a little frayed around the edges. A cabin fever of sorts that sometimes comes with the territory of spending so much time together.

So, while your mind may be fixated on BBQs, fishing and lying in the sun this time of year, let me share with you a few tips that can help you navigate the challenges of extended time together well:

1. Expect challenges

Often our expectations around holidays can lead to a diminished ability to deal with the challenges that will inevitably occur. It is only natural that increased time together as a family will result in increased conflict and boundary pushing at some point. However, if your way of dealing with this is to cross your fingers and hope that it doesn’t happen not only will you be unprepared when the kids start fighting or playing up but you’ll also probably be quite agitated. And every parent knows that their finest parenting moments do not occur when they are feeling agitated.

If you expect challenges, you can prepare for them both practically and mentally.

Having a discipline strategy for sibling conflict as well as being prepared for some grizzling and complaints of being bored, will help you better manage these issues when they arise.

And I would take this point a little further. Not only prepare, but prioritise these challenges. If your child starts throwing a tantrum while you are in the middle of pulling in the biggest fish of your life, let the fish go and deal with the tantrum in the manner that you have prepared. This is inconvenient in the short term, but far better in the long term, not just for your holiday, but for your child’s ongoing development.

2. Find a healthy rhythm

Children love routine – some more than others. However, the idea of sticking to a routine over the holiday period is as appealing to some of us as an organised tour (no offense intended to those who love organised tours – they just don’t tend to have a big market for families with young children).

Regardless, finding a rhythm to your holidays is helpful for keeping your kids settled.

A daily rhythm that keeps mealtimes and bedtimes fairly regular, and promotes energetic activity for young children first thing in the morning is often the best option. Keeping technology at bay until later in the day can be helpful too.

3. Do things together

This point sounds obvious but is often missed on family holidays. Everyone in the family comes into the school holidays with their own expectations of what they will get up to. Dad wants to go surfing, mum wants to read a book, the kids want to swim in the pool or play their new computer game. And while it is reasonable to allow time for each of these activities it is equally important to plan some activities that can be done together. Family bike rides, trips to the beach, or playing in the sprinkler in the backyard together, are all examples in this regard.

Activities together like this help us to strengthen our connections as a family and are often the strongest memories of our holidays that we will have in years to come (for both parents and children!)

4. Finish well

To a young child school holidays seem to stretch on forever. As a result, the transition back to school can be a rude shock. However, there are some steps that can be helpful to take that assist with this transition:

  • In the week leading up to school start to set your daily routine to that of a regular school day, particularly bedtimes and waking up and getting ready times.
  • Consider a celebratory meal on the last night of the holidays in order to reflect on the best parts of the holidays and to clearly mark that the transition to school is now imminent.
  • Look at playdates and contact with some of the friends that your children have at school in order to foster excitement and security about returning.
  • Empathise and offer sensible supports that don’t hyper-focus on fears for children who are a little anxious about returning to school. Drives past school, playdates and focusing on the positives of returning to school, can all help in this regard.