The Family Survival Guide: School Vacation

By Arielle Sheinman, LCSW

Children often see school vacation as a time to do whatever they please, freeing them from responsibilities and academic pressures. Some kids expect an endless range of fun activities, imagining a holiday vacation that reality can rarely deliver, setting them up to feel let down. The change in routine alone can be sufficient to throw some kids off balance.  When you combine expectations and a change in schedule with an increase in family time and togetherness it’s only a matter of time before the level of conflict rises within the home.

Having some amount of structure during the holiday break is helpful for most families. Determining the level of structure will depend on the individual needs of your children. Some kids typically do well with less structure, as they are able to self-regulate their use of technology, and occupy their time in acceptable ways, but many others struggle to do so. If your children tend to act out when left with an abundant amount of idle time, then planning a detailed schedule of activities can be a positive solution. It requires some work on the front end, but it can prevent disappointments and power struggles as the week continues on.

Here are some important things to consider when creating a holiday schedule your children will actually want to follow:

  • Work with your child to create a list of activities that THEY are interested in doing. They will be much more invested in sticking to a schedule, if they were included in the planning process.
  • Consider setting up a structure that is similar to what they’re used to at school. This may seem rigid but some children find it helpful to have designated meal times, bed times and beginning/end times for technology.
  • Use visuals. For example, if you plan on visiting a museum, create printouts of the exhibits you intend to see or spend time on the museums website, alongside your child.
  • Make sure not to forget to schedule downtime or planned relaxation too; after all, it is school vacation! The aim is not to be overly rigid or inflexible, but instead to help children learn how to manage their time effectively.

Here is a quick list of activities to consider:

  • Bake cookies or brownies
  • Trip to the museum
  • A family movie or game night
  • A read-off or book challenge