Five ways to make the school summer holidays less stressful

Summer holidays are fast approaching, time for the family to unwind and spend quality time together. But family holidays, for many, aren’t all fun in the sun. Research shows that two-thirds of parents think going on holidays with their kids is more stressful than being at work.

In fact, family conflict during the holidays can escalate to the point where nearly a fifth of parents end the school holidays contemplating divorce or separation.Kate Westmacott, local family lawyer and Head of the Family Department at Wolferstans says: “It’s a sad but unavoidable fact that the dream family holiday can be, for some, a living nightmare. Juggling work and looking after the kids or having finances stretched by that big family trip escalates conflict.”“Sometimes it’s the anticipation of the holiday itself that can be the problem.

People often build up unrealistic expectations for summer holidays which aren’t then matched by the reality of spending long periods of time with their partner, while trying to keep the children happy and entertained. For those that have to work, escalating childcare costs can lead to frayed finances and tempers – it’s been estimated that summer holidays cost UK parents up to £8.6bn every year on childcare and entertainment for the kids.”“These added stresses can place unbearable weight on relationships that are already strained, leading to some people making the decision to separate.”Wolferstans Family Team includes members of Resolution, an organisation of family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. Resolution has used its members’ experience of constructively resolving family disputes to put together a set of tips for parents dreading the advent of August.Tips for a less stressful summer holiday:

  1. Research cheap or free activities to do with the kids.  School holidays can get very expensive very quickly, which can lead to conflicts about money when finances have been overstretched.  Discount offers for museums or parks are great way to see attractions for less, and for younger children fun craft activities or cooking at home can be a cheap way to pass time for the financially-savvy family.
  2. You don’t need to entertain the children all of the time. Trying to occupy every spare moment of your children's time on holidays can be exhausting, particularly if the bulk of the childcare falls to one parent due to work arrangements. Remember that children are resourceful and imaginative – encourage this by giving them time to make up their own games and entertain themselves. This will give you some time to recoup.
  3. Be prepared to compromise. Different people have different ideas about what makes a great holiday. This means, for most people, that compromise is essential. If you and your partner are able to reach a mutual agreement on how to spend the holidays, or perhaps even take turns to decide what you’re going to do each year, you’ll alleviate some of the disappointment and accompanying resentment.
  4. Talk it over. Before the holiday, discuss with your partner your mutual expectations of the holiday and what you want to get out of it. Unmet expectations are a recipe for holiday tension – taking the time to talk it over can help to resolve this before it becomes a problem.
  5. Seek help. If all else fails and your family holiday doesn’t work out as planned, seek professional help. Asking your partner to see a relationship or family counsellor before making the life-changing decision to separate is a constructive first step.

If you’re a separated parent, holidays can be especially tricky to manage. Resolution’s tips for managing the break:

  • Make sure you and the child’s other parent have discussed arrangements for the holidays ahead of time to avoid misunderstandings, disappointment or conflict – and don’t book any holidays until you have.
  • Don’t try to out-do one another on providing your children with a holiday – stretching two homes budgets on a competitive holiday war won’t help anyone, Children can feel guilty – and may resent you if they feel that they are having a very special holiday when they know their other parent can’t afford to do the same
  • Always provide the children’s other parent with details of where the children will be with you on holiday and with contact details in case of any emergencies
  • Agree how the children will keep in touch with their other parent whilst they are away – and encourage them to do so
  • Remember that if you are thinking about taking your children abroad, you should agree that with the children’s other parent ahead of time – don’t book flights and hotels until you have.

Kate Westmacott says: “I can’t guarantee that following these guidelines will make for a totally conflict free family holiday, but they certainly should help. Although if you’re planning a trip to Euro Disney at the height of August, I’m afraid you’re on your own!”

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