Cecily's guide to surviving the long school holidays

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School holidays ought to be relaxing, easy times of family togetherness, sibling harmony and summer fun. Right?

Not in this house, people.

I've got four children, in case you missed it, and I've cried at least once in every school holidays for the last five years. Somehow my kids never got the memo about what a happy, together family looks like on holidays.

They prefer to do the following: complain, ask to watch TV, argue, ask to play the computer, whinge, eat everything all at once, ask to watch more TV, say things are boring and they don't have anything to do, start fights and make mess.

I've tried various things over the years to improve the situation. Ignoring them while on my bed with a pile of books to read didn't work that well. Nor did yelling. Nor, obviously, did crying. 

So this year, with children who have all somehow grown in capability and capacity (particularly the 10 year old with ASD who now has a LOT more resilience than he ever did), I'm taking the initiative. I'm going to set the expectations high from Day One and see what happens. 

We like schedules around here.

That is to say, I really like schedules, and I think my children actually like them even more than I do. None of us seem to be the 'let's wing it and see' types. Some people are spontaneous and creative. We watch the clock a lot. 

It's very interesting to see just how easily my children accept, for example, time limits on screen time, if it's written up on the schedule. When it comes out of my mouth they fight it and protest and call me names. Once it's ink on paper, or the buzz of a kitchen timer, there's no arguing.

It's because of this simple fact that all year I've had a schedule on the fridge spelling out the things that always seemed to cause arguments. For example, which boy had his bible reading time first in the morning, what nights we watch TV and, most importantly, who gets to pick what we watch. 

I even schedule the location of our dinner otherwise I have to field nightly requests like this: "Pleeeeease can we eat dinner in front of the TV???? Pleeeeeease?" It was an easy tweak to add and subject a few holiday-specific items to the regular roster. (Sorry, I couldn't get this one in the right format to post.)

The second job was to set a basic daily routine. I built in some time limits and some additional household duties.

This is a new thing. Because of Bright Eyes' ASD difficulties, none of them have really had to do jobs around the house before now. He just could never cope with it, and it didn't seem fair to make the others do it when their brother didn't have to. There's enough of a competitive spirit around here anyway without adding that into the mix. I'm hoping that now they're all at an age and stage where it can just become part of normal home life, like doing jobs at school is normal.

I then added another list of jobs and stuck it up in the kitchen. The children must choose one from the list every day as part of the daily routine or miss out on a privilege. If they want to earn money or work towards a reward, they can do extra.

I deliberately didn't make this into a competition because that always backfires for us. One boy is amassing stars towards a reward (it'll be something as simple as going out for a packet of chips) and the other is translating stars to cash and saving up. 

Bright Eyes is currently fixated on purchasing something that costs $69. He's figured out that if he chooses the two star jobs, he'll earn more than if he just does the one star tasks and he's been looking through deciding what he'd like to do.

I'm cheering silently from the corner.

The final piece of paper that's on the kitchen door says this: "How can I help?" That's our theme for the holidays. If they look at it enough and if I say versions of it enough, it should get planted in their heads, right? I hope so. 

Is it a foolproof plan? Heavens, no. But I'm hoping I might get through the holidays without crying.

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