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SALT LAKE CITY — In the famous song "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" there is one line that most parents can relate to. You know how it goes: "And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again. …" I am sure many of us have played that soundtrack to our life as we tackle each day of winter break with our kids.
It is usually sometime between Dec. 26 and the day school reconvenes when we may feel a twinge of panic as to how the house will ever function normal again. The thrill of anticipation for the big day has diminished, the sugar crash has set in, and bedtime seems to happen about three hours too late.
Amidst all the magic and excitement that Christmas brings, you may find yourself wondering how you are going to survive two whole weeks of a messy house, busy kitchen and nonstop chaos. Here are some tools and tips to help parents manage free time with their kids during the holidays.
1. Provide structure
Of course kids are going to be excited about having time away from school where they can be free to do as they please, but what they don't know is that their brain actually craves structure. It is important for them to know what is coming next, what is expected of them, and what they need to be aware of. This helps the child to feel safe physically and emotionally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises: "Being predictable in all areas of a child's life can reduce stress and improve children's behavior." Naturally, school provides this structure for them. Without school, your child is left without focus and structure and will either be zoned out or unable to channel their excess thoughts and energy.
Start your winter break off by discussing with your child activities he or she would like to do during the holiday season, or what your child would like to accomplish or see. Plan ahead and map it out on a calendar to help your child know what and when things will happen. Then, explain that in order to participate in fun events and activities they need to be organized with their time just as adults are expected to.
Setting a daily schedule with your child is a good idea. Depending on the age of your son or daughter, you should encourage the child or help write a schedule down and put it somewhere it can be seen each morning. If your child doesn't know how to read yet, draw simple pictures and a checklist that can be marked off.
Daily to-do tasks are a good starting place in creating a schedule. Be clear in your expectations, such as cleaning their bedroom, reading time, getting dressed, etc. Be realistic in your expectations so that they are not set up to fail each day.
Decide together how he or she can fill time away from school. The more participation your child has in creating the schedule, the higher the likelihood of it being followed. Remember to schedule time for free play and relaxation as well.
2. Set limitations
As much as your son or daughter would love to be in constant party mode for an entire two weeks ,indulging in whatever he or she pleases, the house will run much smoother if some rules are established.
Mindless hours in front of a TV, gaming system or iPad/phone are not beneficial to a child's or teen's brain. An overuse of screen time will most likely leave them feeling cranky and unsettled. The American Academy of Pediatrics says, "Excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors."
For some families, this is a major task to handle already. You may feel that the battle just got harder since there is extra time at home and brand new electronics, video games and gadgets that showed up from the holiday. It would be easy to just let them indulge. Stay strong, stay positive, and remember what is good for everyone in the long run. It is much easier to establish clear rules at the beginning of the break as opposed to after a few days in.
You could even game plan with your kids before winter break even starts. Let them be involved in writing the rules so they understand the reasoning behind it.
3. Don't forget to connect
Christmastime is all about family, love and relationships. Do not lose sight of what is most important to you.
Remember, children are always in a constant state of learning so mistakes and mishaps are expected. Give them space to try again. Show them that you are not just a "rule enforcer" but that you really care to see them happy. Build memories through laughter and set aside time to play with them. The more they feel connected, the more you will feel respected.
So, let loose! Give their new video game a try and watch them laugh at you as you lose. Sit down and actually play that board game Santa brought for Christmas. Regardless of their age, whether they are 5 or 15, they are more likely to honor your parenting motives if you show some sort of interest in their activities.
Be the parent you always wanted to be. Avoid the family feuds this winter break. Reduce the bickering, nagging and disappointment by planning ahead with structure, rules and clear communication. Have fun, take the time to connect with your child, and remember that children are only little once.
Lacey Hancock, MA, ACMHC, is dedicated to helping children, adolescents, adults and families overcome life's challenges. Hancock practices at Life Stone Counseling Center's Midvale and American Fork locations. Learn more at www.lifestonecenter.com/lacey-hancock.php.