Parents of Children 12 and Under During School Breaks

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Parents of Children 12 and Under During School Breaks 

Students and their families take a big hit to their daily schedules when school breaks occur. Every family’s situation is different, but our tips can help make things a little easier. 

Routines

Young children benefit from having predictability and structure. To support your younger children, you can develop a schedule that helps them stay consistent with what it would be if they were in school. This can be more difficult for older children, but this is a great opportunity to have a conversation about expectations. 

Some examples of how to construct their schedule:

  • Help your kids wake up close to when they would if they were going to school. For older kids, you can adjust this to what is best for them. 
  • Help your kids go to bed close to when they would if they were going to school the next day. Again, you can adjust for the older kids. 
  • Prep lunch and snacks for your kids around the time they eat at school. 
  • Encourage fun activities during times they would be in school. 

These tips can be adjusted depending on the needs of the child and your ability as the parent(s). If you are a family that will require another caregiver during work hours, you can also provide a schedule or list of activities for that person.

Activities

Need some ideas for activities for your kids during the day? Think about the activities they do at school and see what is doable from there. If you want to create an activity list yourself, here are some ideas to get you started. Not all activities are safe for all ages to complete independently, so supervision may be required depending on the age of your child.

  • Art projects - There are many different ways to engage your kids in art projects. This is also a great medium for your kids to express themselves, and if it’s something they enjoy, it could be an introduction to a wellness activity later on. 
    • Painting 
    • Working with clay or playdough
    • Drawing with crayons or pencils 
    • Cutting or tearing and pasting pictures. This activity will require supervision for younger kids. Have your child take different colored papers, cut out the shapes they want, and glue them to one piece of paper to create an image.

  • Reading time - Take your child to the library to pick out some books to read during their free time. You can recommend books that inspire learning or catch their interest. It’s important to find books that they’ll have fun with, since this is still a “school” break.  

  • Creative opportunities - There are the regular day-to-day activities that you typically do at home, and there are activities that can be spiced up a bit for school breaks.
    • Planning and cooking a family meal. Involve your child in looking up a recipe, making a list of ingredients, going to the store to purchase the ingredients you need, then preparing the meal together.
    • Smash that Lego set and rebuild. Test your child’s ability to recreate the Lego set using the steps given, or to rebuild using their own creativity.
    • Get organized. Have a toy room or bins that are overflowing and need to be gone through? Share the project with your child, giving them the opportunity to set aside items to donate that they’re no longer interested in, throw away broken or heavily used items, or list items for sale on your social media page (which also gives them an opportunity to purchase new things if they’re sold!).
    • Sensory play. Look up some easy sensory items you can make at home with toilet paper rolls, empty water bottles or items from your recycle bin. Don’t have the time? Fill up large bins with sand, rice, soap and water and throw in cups, kitchen utensils and small toys for them to hide, wash off or dig with! Plan for a mess by laying an old tablecloth or tarp underneath for easy clean-up. 

  • Skill building - Have some time to teach new skills? Some of these activities may require more supervision because they include sharp tools, such as:  
    • Knitting
    • Crocheting
    • Sewing
    • Gardening
    • Woodwork 

Children also thrive off of activities that get them up and moving to help them release their excess energy. There are many different ways to get their wiggles out!

  • Take a walk as a family in the neighborhood, at the park, or a local walking path/hiking
  • Search services like GoNoodle for videos to get them moving 
  • Play sports in the back yard, front yard, gym or at the park 
  • Have a dance party! 
  • Have them build obstacle courses with items from home, and time them to see how fast they can get through them.
  • Take your kids to the park to play with other kids 
  • Have a gym membership? See if your gym provides programs for your kid’s age group.

Trips

School break doesn’t always mean staying home the whole time. For those who can travel, this introduces the possibility of additional stressors that can affect both parents and their young children. The best way to support young children is to prepare them for how to navigate stressful or overwhelming situations. 

Traveling by plane?

Regardless of whether this is your child’s first, second or thirtieth time, it can be very overwhelming for them to navigate airports.The biggest thing you can do to support your child is to support yourself. Here are some strategies that you can practice if you feel overwhelmed or anxious at the airport:

  • Arrive at the airport well before your scheduled flight time to give yourself plenty of time to tackle security and find your terminal. This will help you avoid the stress of being late or dealing with last-minute changes to your itinerary. 

  • Actively feeling anxious or overwhelmed? Take a few moments to focus on your breathing. If you have a watch or phone timer, set it for one minute and take deep breaths in and out. Add on time as needed. 

Once you have tackled your own anxieties, let’s talk about preparing your kids.

  • Have a conversation with your child prior to the trip to go over what will happen at the airport and on the plane. 
    • Security walkthrough. 
    • Crowded and fast-paced environments. Try taking them to places with lots of people prior to the trip to help them get used to this.
    • What it might feel like on the plane. Some children have sensitivity to the elevation or sound.
    • Some potential changes or setbacks, and how you will approach them. These include delays, terminal changes, etc.
    • A plan for if they become separated from you. Teach them to find someone to ask for help or look for adults who work at the airport (a restaurant worker, shop staff, ticket-counter workers, etc.). Show pictures of what airport staff might look like, pointing out uniforms, and explain what they should say to them.

  • Help them feel comfortable and in control. 
    • Work together with them in packing a small backpack with things to keep them busy and calm. 
      • Coloring books.
      • Small action figures or dolls. 
      • Fidget toys.
      • Activity book.
      • Playing cards or flash cards. 
      • A tablet with earphones. 
      • *If you decide to pack electronics, be sure to have back-up plans for if the batteries die

  • Talk about coping mechanisms for if they feel overwhelmed.
    • Review the breathing exercise mentioned in the parent section.
    • Empower your child to express their feelings and needs. 
      • Talk about what it feels like to be overwhelmed or anxious so they know how to communicate with you.
        • Tight chest, racing heart, can’t think clearly. 
        • Brain Basics: Anxiety for Kids - with Lee Constable 
        • Come up with a code word that lets you know the level of support they need. To help you and them, you can discuss what each level might look like.  
          • Low: You can finish what you’re doing, then address their issue.
          • Medium: They need you to wrap up what you’re doing and address their issue.
          • High: They need you to stop what you’re doing and address their issue.
      • Discuss what helps them feel calm.
        • Bring a special item that makes them feel safe, such as a small blanket, a stuffed animal, a photo, etc. 
        • If they can write, you can have them bring a journal to write how they feel.
        • Create or find a mantra for them to repeat to themselves.
          • I am brave.
          • After this, we’re going to see grandpa.
          • I am strong.
          • I can do this. 
    • Have kids that require more attention for physical or mental health needs? Talk with their doctor or provider about anything more you should do to support their needs.

Traveling by car?

Traveling by car can be a great time to make memories together, but it can also be stressful to navigate multiple people’s needs and comfort levels. Similar to traveling by plane, it’s best to review the expectations of a long drive. Driving presents different challenges, such as not being able to quickly address an issue if you’re not sitting next to them or if you are driving. Here are some tips on how to navigate your road trip and protect your mental health.

Before the trip:
  • Practice being in the car for longer periods of time to prepare your kids for longer durations of sitting. This is also an opportunity to discover potential issues before the actual travel days so that you can find solutions earlier.
  • Look at the directions to your final location and find potential stopping places for food, bathrooms and emergencies. Try to find stops within a maximum of one hour between each other, if possible. You can always pass them if you don’t need them, but if you do need them, they will be a big help. 
  • Similar to plane travel, have your kids pack a small backpack with things for them to do while in the car. If you have a tablet or screens in the car, download some movies. Check out the plane travel section for ideas of what to put in the bags.
  • Have kids that require more attention for physical or mental health needs? Talk with their doctor or provider about anything more you should do to support their needs.
Day of the trip:
  • Review your stop list and everything with the kids so that they know when and where their opportunities are to stop. When you’re approaching those stops, remind your passengers in case they need to stop.
  • As a parent, you may find yourself carrying most of the stress and anxiety for car travel, so it’s important to check in with yourself and practice your own self-care and stop when you need to. 

Keeping Kids Connected

School breaks mean that your child won’t have the same amount of time with their friends. Being away from kids they can play with, especially if you have a single child or children with a large age gap, can make kids feel lonely and isolated. Find ways to keep them connected by either planning playdates or setting up calls. Here are some ideas on how to keep your child connected with their friends:

  • Talk to the parents of your child’s friends, and schedule playdates when you’re all available.
  • If you happen to be friends with people who have kids, plan events where your kids can attend and play together.
  • Plan a trip with another family where your kids can play together and keep each other company.
  • Look up local events for kids and families. 
  • No kids nearby during the school break? Ask parents if they would be open to video chats so that your kids can say hi to each other.

However your kids spend their winter break, we hope that you can utilize our suggestions and tips to prioritize their mental health and rest before they go back to school.  

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