Parents are reminded time and again that children need space away from structured activities to recharge and rediscover themselves. Yet, as any parent of a restless child knows, unfettered time can be a boon or a burden for family life. In a perfect world, a free day would be ripe for exploration, but in reality, an empty agenda is a prelude to disaster if lethargy and boredom set in—expect sibling rivalry, tantrums, and other forms of emotional upheaval to surface as children seek ways to release their pent-up energy.
While our efforts may be marred by tension and frustration, we should persist in helping our children find pleasure and purpose in a slower, simpler existence. Unlike the September holidays, where exam revision takes precedence, the week-long March term break is a chance for children to sit back, relax, and reflect—follow these steps to make it happen.
Schedule a few activities, if your child is enthusiastic about them.
This is an easy barometer for gauging your child’s enthusiasm, as recommended by Michael Thompson, clinical psychologist and author of The Pressured Child: “Are you hearing laughter? Is the child giggling when you drop them off or pick them up? Or are they solemn and dragging their feet?” Your child’s visual cues can help you decide if an enrichment activity is worth pursuing, especially during the school holidays.
Respect your free time.
If you regard free time as “unproductive” or “wasted” time, your child is likely to mirror your attitude as he or she grows up. Conversely, if you are protective over time set aside for relaxation and enjoyment, your child will be more inclined to adopt a balanced approach towards life and work in the future. One way to solidify your commitment to personal time is to create restful spaces in your home, such as dedicated corners for reading, play, and art. (Read our guide to setting up an art space at home.) You can also model behaviours such as putting aside work and mobile devices during family time, and scheduling bonding activities such as a family movie night.
Remember: Boredom is healthy for your child.
Parents often feel the need to rescue their children from boredom, but doing so can be counter-productive, says clinical psychologist and author Laura Markham. “If we keep them busy with lessons and structured activity, or they ‘fill’ their time with screen entertainment, they never learn to respond to the stirrings of their own hearts, which might lead them to build a fort in the backyard, make a monster from clay, write a short story or song, organise the neighbourhood kids into making a movie, or simply study the bugs on the sidewalk—as Einstein did for hours,” she explains. Read her article on how to respond to a child who says “I’m bored,” which includes 115 examples of screen-free play ideas that you and your child can refer to, if all else fails.
Above all, the school holidays are a time for bonding.
“Parents need to relax. Slow down. Activities are fine, but don’t go over the top. Research says that what children need most are relationships, not activities,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, child psychiatrist and author of The Overscheduled Child, Avoiding The Hyper-Parenting Trap. “Focus on building meaningful relationships with your children, not becoming their chauffeur.” Stress-free outings such as brunches and playdates provide ample opportunity for quality conversations with your children and their friends. Set aside time to reconnect with extended family members as well, to keep family ties intact.