Just when I thought everything was under control; the house was in check, I was studying and also managing to write my blog with regularity, I was going to the gym three or four times a week and I was even having the cheek to maintain an encouraging relationship in the process.
Well, that was until Tuesday the 22 July when the boys saw out their last days on the curriculum as year four and six students.
Now how on earth am I going to juggle my work, the mountain of life coaching coursework AND entertain the children for the next six weeks?! As I pondered the enormity of the situation it struck me that I knew exactly how to cope.
Over the last six months my coaching practice has meant that I have enabled people to make many plans, some for business ventures, and some to tackle grief, but, most commonly, to help people manage their time more effectively. Well surely I could do this for myself? And in doing it for my family, maybe it'll work fantastically for you too?
When children know everything up front, you effectively pre-empt every problem that might arise when they feel a decision has been made for them or something has been sprung on them out of the blue. I know this isn't always possible but allowing them to give their input gives them a voice and an opinion which I think breeds teamwork, self-worth and contentment and these things all equal a more amiable and on-side child!
I'm going to empower you to take control of the summer holidays. I'm not going to use rocket science to baffle you into submission, just plain English and common sense of a step by step nature.
What benefits come from being organised about the summer holidays?
1. The kids feel involved in the planning process which promotes self-worth and good behaviour.
2. There is much less need to say NO when we are asked 30 times within any day if they can go somewhere we aren't able to arrange. Because you have a plan, everyone knows what they are doing or not doing as can also be the case! For this reason it also reduces 'Parental Guilt'
3. No afternoons or evenings go to waste. If you want a quiet one, schedule it in, if you want to go and be social, schedule that in too.
4. Less stress! Everyone gets to do what they want at different stages of the week, everyone's wants and needs are catered for, a harmonious vibe enshrines the house and we all live happily ever after!
5. It enables you to budget what money you have available for the children to use. Giving them control of the finances can have unexpected results, suddenly they become a little more understanding of the difficulties parents face making the money stretch and it eliminates that moment when they ask for something that you can't provide.
The 10 Simple Steps...
1. The template for success
Before we discuss the what, how, when, who and how much, we have to decide how we remember any of it. I wouldn't recommend being off the cuff because you won't get half as much done so use what you are used to, diaries and wall planners might work just as well but I go for the weekly calendar print outs as shown below.
If you don't have a printer just draw it out with old fashioned pencil and ruler.
With a bit of blue tack or pinned onto a cork board we're away. All we need now is the wonderfully exciting plans to fill their days with!
2. What kind of activities would they like to try and how can I find out?
Let's get down to business. Call a family board room meeting and unleash your inner coach! Don't panic, I've done the training so you don't have to, simply sit the kids down with pen and paper in hand and instead of making them do what you want or telling them what you can't afford, approach it from a different angle and simply ask them the following questions.
• What do you want to try in the holidays?
(Athletics Club, Free Running)
• Are there any places you'd like to visit?
(Tottenham FC training ground, Westfield)
• Are there any people you'd like to see?
(Nanny Budden, Cousin Rosie and Ellie)
• What clubs would you like to give a try?
(Trampolining, Kids Bootcamp)
• What activities would you like to do?
• What would you like to learn during the holidays?
• What are your favourite things to do at home?
(Build a Den, Have a sleepover)
• What friends would you like round for tea or sleepovers?
(Too many names to possibly list!)
• Favourite thing to do with Daddy?
(Camping, Football, Rounders)
• If we had no money left, what would we do!
(Climb trees, go for bike rides)
• Would you like to do anything for charity while you're off?
What do we do with the information now we have it?
Each question will produce a list of ideas, don't rush them and if they sound similar, it's not the questions that are important, it's the wonderfully creative and insightful answers that you need to focus on because this is where your children do all of the hard work for you!
Given in brackets were some of my kid's responses just to give you a guide. A true coach never makes suggestions so try and stick to questions only otherwise you are influencing and not allowing them the value of putting their own identity on their summer holiday plan.
Some things they suggest might cost too much, don't dismiss their ideas, we don't judge their creativity, just make two columns, things that cost and things that are free and later down the line they will eliminate the things that can't be afforded themselves.
3. Digging Deeper: HOW would they like to do each activity and WHO would they like to do it with?
A coach's job is to break everything down into smaller detail and encourage a decisive commitment for each possibility.
• What do you like doing with Daddy?
- I like it when we go camping.
• What do you like about camping?
- sleeping outdoors and playing games.
• What's your favourite kind of place to go camping
- In the back garden
• What games do you like playing when we are camping?
- Run outs and hide and seek
• Who would you like to play hide and seek with?
- Daddy, Kate, Bobby, Jessie and Bobby B
As you can see it's just a conversation between father and son but what Freddy has done is told me what he'd like to do, who he would like to be there and informed me he doesn't need to travel anywhere, he'd just really like to camp in the garden which is useful to know seeing as it's so much easier to arrange! Who said kids were hard work?! All I did was ask five consecutive questions so try the same. Remember kids are far more creative than we are.
4. What decides WHEN we can do these activities?
Some things, like sleepovers and visits, are down to our discretion to arrange but, for the majority of requests on the average 'summer wish list' these are things that happen on specific days at set times. Before we can start putting the pieces of the jigsaw together we need to know WHEN and WHERE these things are happening.
Do your Homework!
The boys wanted to do a number of clubs which required me doing a bit of research, for example the most obscure request was to join a dodge ball club but it turned out that there actually is an afternoon summer camp in Brentwood, and, starting in September, there is a club meeting every Wednesday evening very near where we live. Don't dismiss their ideas as unachievable because I've found there's more going on for them than we think!
5. What is first in the diary?
Now we know the facts it's time to take our calendars and start filling them up but what goes in first and why? If we are to be realistic we must first schedule around our availability which will dictate whether a child is able to go to a club or whether they will be with gran elsewhere or a whole host of other possible connotations.
For my work commitments and anything else that isn't about the kids I have used a pencil to mark out my whereabouts (I have my own diary, this is solely for the boys otherwise it starts to look complicated) then I use different colour felt tips to either separate each child's different plans (useful if you have a big age gap) or just for each different type of commitment so that they all stand out as much for the kids benefit as ours.
Ask yourself when is your work? Where will the kids be when you are working and what will they have access to in that person's care? I know that when I'm working over the next six weeks my mum will be mainly in charge and because we live close they won't therefore be inhibited by my selfish need to earn a living!
It's your job to interpret how your availability affects their schedule but it's just as beneficial to plan around work this way so you make the best of the time you do have with them.
6. Inserting the pieces of the puzzle
Now you have put in what YOU need to do, you should now be able to identify the time you have available and regardless of whether it's evenings and weekends only, this is your chance to draw a box around that time and decide which of your child's desired actions you will piece into that window.
Put all of their clubs in each weekly calendar view and these things will serve as a weekly list of daily options that you know are there if the circumstance and cost are right on that occasion.
7. What if you need to stick to a specific budget?
If your kids are a little older then it can be very useful to let them know there is a budget to what you can afford to let them do on any given week. Week long camps can often represent good value but a week full of individual clubs can soon mount up to a hefty amount, especially if you have more than a few!
I find our local sports centre is very good value and it's their responsibility to make sport and an active lifestyle accessible for all, so very often they have concessions to suit us all.
There are so many things to do that cost nothing and if there's something I'm constantly reminded of, it's that all the boys want is time with me over anything else and the same can be said for all families, unless you have teens I'm told!
If in the 'meeting' you feel like everything they want is costing a big amount, make two separate lists, ask the question "If I ran out of money, what things could we do then?"
If you say they have £20 a week for clubs and activities, find out how much swimming, badminton and guitar lessons for example cost and then see your child actually enjoy making the choice between what's actually affordable and what isn't and completely step away from that feeling of guilt you get when you have to say no! With the time left over, that when you revert to column B, the things that don't cost anything like bike rides, tree climbs, sleepover's etc.
8. Managing the enemy
Not the kids! The computers and devices, that, if they were allowed, they would sit on all day. Don't get me wrong, if they've been out and played outdoors then I don't mind the odd hour or so each day for them to listen to Bars and Melody or play Fifa, it is meant to be their HOLIDAY after all, but I'm reluctant as we all should be, to let the computers entertain them all day, every day.
I manage this situation by allowing them two hours of computer time each day, they decide when and what they do with it. They can also have an hour of TV for cartoons etc. unless we all sit down to watch a film which is an exception to the rule.
Because the lads still have an element of choice, this system works for them and if they are having fun doing other stuff I often find that they don't even come close to using their hours up each day anyway.
9. Now work out the food!
This isn't dependant on the summer holidays but what I've found in the past is that if the kids feel like they are choosing their lunches and dinners they are far more likely to suggest what salad or vegetables they want with their meal and if they chose them, they eat them! You know the whole 'I don't like peas' thing is just a try on, of course you do, well this approach is a way around the problem.
Kids will not just enjoy the choosing but also creating their own version of a recipe, for example chilli con carne, where they can decide how they can make it a more healthy version and then to actually help make it takes their ownership of the whole food process complete. How do we know how much a child is willing to help if we've never actually asked them?
A good thing to remember is that kids know EVERY answer to any question we can put to them about what they should or shouldn't do. If we do more asking and less telling I find you still get to the same result, just with a lot less difficulty.
Don't forget the unwritten rule also that if you have someone's kid over for tea, the rule of thumb is usually that they should return the favour. There is a lovely mum in my life called Treena who has helped me out on countless occasions with Fred so at this rate i'll be having her son Jessie every other night!
Another note on friends coming over. Sometimes we get ourselves in the mindset that having people over equals mess and noise and generally that its more aggravation than it's worth. My kids had a mate each over to stay last night and they couldn't be happier or be behaving any better than they are. I've been able to write this without distraction and, especially if you are on a budget, the price for my children's happiness was whatever it cost to feed our guests; a little bit more pasta, an extra carton of juice and a few more Coco-Pops!
10. Now try doing this for what YOU want to do in the next six weeks.
Your children must understand that there is to be some give or take within this period and if you want to go shopping every Tuesday morning and they need to come then alert them to this at the planning stage. They can then get their heads around the fact that for them to go to the park on Wednesday afternoon this is what they must do in return; let the negotiations begin!
Good Luck and let me know how you get on!
Send photos of your completed summer holiday plans to me on twitter @JeffBrazier for a retweet. Let's share the Ideas!