Dave Rose shares his top tips to getting through the summer holidays based on some of his less successful experiences
Sometimes, being a parent is a bit like trying to finish a marathon just as an earthquake starts. Everything is changing all around you, there’s quite a lot of screaming, and you’re doing your level best to ignore it all.
There is no better example of this, of course, than supermarket shopping. One minute you’re keeping your little darling entertained with the time-honoured ‘find-the-item-and-put-it-in-the-trolley-for-me’ game and the next they’re rolling around on the floor issuing a noise designed to send local dogs slowly insane, all because you wouldn’t put a second box of their favourite cereal, Super Chocolate Taste Explosions, into the trolley. Naturally, you are also trying to ignore the tuts and withering looks from fellow shoppers, who obviously think you are to parenting what Joey Essex is to Countdown.
It’s moments like this that cause you to pause and reflect. What did you do wrong? Could you have handled it differently? Quite apart from giving us entertaining stories to talk about at parties, mistakes also have the benefit of being opportunities to learn. And let’s face it, ‘opportunities to learn’ sounds a lot better than ‘giant blunders’. The potential pressure cooker of the summer holidays perhaps offers us more ‘opportunities to learn’ than any other time of the year.
So how do we survive six long weeks of entertaining the children? Here’s my advice, based entirely on my enormous gaffes of the past. I’ve made these mistakes so you don’t have to!
Children will eat more or less non-stop unless what you’re trying to get them to eat is either healthy or nutritious, in which case you may as well try to push jelly through a straw. This is especially the case when they’re bored and, let’s face it, it’s also true for adults.
I remember queuing with my children for a ride at a theme park. It was taking a little while and, as we were slowly winding our way up and down roped-off paths surrounded by fake plants, they were getting hungry. I hadn’t thought about this and had nothing to give them.
It’ll save a lot of hassle if you have some chocolate buttons to hand or, if you want something heathier, some dried fruit or even mini rice cakes. Anything you can do to distract them as you pass the ‘45 minutes’ wait from this point’ sign will help prevent you going slowly mad.
In a similar way, it often pays to have some small diversions tucked away in a bag or a coat pocket to pull out when you’re on a train journey or waiting to be served when you eat out.
On one memorable occasion, my son asked me for something to do while he was waiting. As you may have already gathered I’m not the most prepared person in the world, so I had nothing to give him. He immediately declared loudly to anyone even vaguely passing that this simply wouldn’t do. In fact, he felt it was so offensive he told me he would call the police. While I was interested to see how that conversation might have gone, I managed to discourage him from this course of action.
Again, some activity books, colouring in, or even a small, noiseless toy car could have saved me a lot of trouble.
Don’t overlook cheaper options
Children have absolutely no sense of the value of money. None at all. One of my children has recently been bothering me daily to try and get me to buy him a new computer console and seems shocked that I’ve said no. This same child, when presented with a free plastic watch from a Happy Meal, looked at me with such obvious delight it was as if I’d bought him a Mercedes.
The temptation in the summer is to stretch yourself by taking the children to all manner of expensive places but, while they might be nice, there’s no real need. I took my children for a very expensive day in London once, and the best time they had that day was when we discovered a free playground in St James’ Park. They loved exploring a new park, kicking about in the sandpit and climbing on things, all in the glorious shadow of Buckingham Palace and absolutely free.
Your children will remember the experience they had rather than how much it cost.
I have had many embarrassing experiences in my life, but near the top of that list was the occasion when my wife and I traipsed through an unfamiliar part of town for 45 minutes with eight nine-year-olds all dressed as princesses with glitter, wands and all the attached paraphernalia. This was because we hadn’t properly planned where we might take them for lunch following the trip to Sing-A-Long Frozen.
It would have been significantly easier if I’d worked out what was open nearby and where we could go instead of assuming it would easy to just find somewhere. We certainly raised some local eyebrows, not least when my tiara fell off.
I know this will come as a massive shock to you, but it isn’t always sunny during a British summer. The best-laid plans of picnics in the park can suffer at the hands of the rainclouds, so it doesn’t hurt to have back-up plans in place. I have spent many hours staring out of the living room window as the rain pours down, the children running around the place desperate to burn off some energy, and me scraping a tally chart of days spent cooped inside my home-based prison into the wall with my fingernail.
Why not get some craft sets in? Or is there a local library you can visit? Many have special events or book-based challenges on during the school holidays. It will be fun, educational and won’t involve wishing the roof would start leaking just to give you something to do.
Play to their strengths
You know your children better than anyone, so ask yourself what they would like to do… or better still, ask them!
I once made the mistake of taking both my children to the cinema: just me and the two of them. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that my son sometimes reacts badly in this environment. The dark frightens him and he’s startled by the loud cinematic noises.
We arrived, loaded up on drinks and snacks and were just heading into the screen when he kicked off. Loudly. He refused to even try to go in. This set the other child off because, as I was trying to persuade him in, she was worried she would miss the film.
In the end I had to call for backup and a grandparent came and took the poor boy away to do something else. In the meantime, we’d missed the start of the film and I tripped up the steps in the dark, showering the first two rows in popcorn. Then I discovered someone had stolen our pre-booked seats, so I ended up sitting on the stairs while my daughter found a single seat next to the aisle.
This could have been avoided if I’d thought about my child’s needs a bit more effectively and at least worked out a plan if he couldn’t face it. It just goes to show that you will all enjoy yourself a lot more if you play to their strengths.
Good luck to you all!
Six weeks is a long time to spend non-stop with children, but if you put some thought into it, it doesn’t have to be a trial (not all the time at least). I can’t guarantee that your children won’t throw tantrums, draw elaborate pictures of superheroes on the walls or cover your entire bathroom in talcum powder because they want to play a game that involves snow (I did that last one when I was a child. It was the most trouble I’ve ever been in). Children will be children; that’s why they’re challenging. Let’s be honest though, it’s also why we love them.