Working Parents & School Breaks: Keep Kids Engaged & Safe

school breaks

Struggling with how to manage the kids while you have to work over the next school break?

School breaks are a great time to foster independence – without the distraction and stress of homework and projects. Independence is not something that just happens at 18. It is something we have to teach our kids, step by step, how to manage.

While there are NO easy answers, here are some tips to help things go more smoothly – for parents of all aged kids. YOU decide which age applies to you! ☺

For Parents of Younger Kids

With younger kids, you have to find childcare, and sometimes that’s not easy! If you’re lucky, you can get support from your beloved Aunt Sarah who cares about your kids and is excited to spoil them! But the raspy-voiced neighbor who’ll “take the kids if no one else will” may feel like your only option, and that’s not an easy choice to make. Do you miss work? Risk the second-hand smoke? Tough call!

Here’s the best option I’ve heard in this circumstance – if you have other ideas, please share them below!

  • Create a “baby-sitting coop” with other parents — in the neighborhood, with a small community of friends, or even with colleagues at work. Take turns with one parent taking the day with a small group of kids (probably no more than 5, depending on the age), while everyone else goes to work. That way you only have to take off 1 day instead of a whole week. It takes some organization, for sure, but it can ease the stress a lot.

Here’s another little tip that worked for me when my kids were younger and we would go out on a date and leave them home alone:

  • Instead of offering to pay our oldest kid for baby-sitting, we actually paid all of them if we got home and got a good report, and the kitchen didn’t look like a tornado had come through it. The “baby” might only get 25 cents, while the middlest got $1 and the oldest got $5 (or whatever prices work for you) – but EVERYONE got something if they handled staying home alone well!

For Parents of Older Kids

For kids age 12 or 13 and older, sometimes we find that kids end up spending a lot of time alone. What’s a parent to do?

For starters, a different kind of organization is required from you. You want to help them begin to create some structure around their days by talking to them in advance — and asking them what they think! Here are some steps to guide you:

  1. First, for our kids, you need to be honest about when it’s safe to leave your complex kid home alone, or with older siblings. Just because she’s 12 doesn’t mean she’s ready, yet. You might start “testing the waters” with small errands, leaving the house for an hour, and then two. Gradually increase to longer time-frames.
  2. Whenever you start leaving your kids alone, set very clear expectations in advance. Remind your kids that with increased responsibility comes increased privileges and freedom – and that their ability to meet the expectations you set will help you learn to trust them more and more. Keep it POSITIVE – not threatening. Empower them to WANT to do well while you’re away.
  3. When you communicate with your kids about your expectations for what they’ll do when they’re alone, make sure that they are REALISTIC expectations! For example, there is likely to be more time spent on screens than parents might otherwise like. So expect that, and be clear about how that time is spent. Agree on what movies they are allowed to watch when you’re away, or what TV shows, or what video games. They may be so surprised that you’re not trying to forbid them that they’re more likely to comply!
  4. Ask your kids what they expect to do with their day. What time do they think it’s reasonable to sleep? (And oh, by the way, you can support that they get some extra sleep — yay! — instead of only complaining that they sleep all day. Wouldn’t you rather they sleep til noon than start watching TV at 7 a.m.?). How will they hold themselves to that plan?
  5. Discuss food. Generally speaking, what will they eat, and by when? And what about cleaning up the kitchen? Set the expectations, and see what needs to be done in advance to facilitate it. For example, you may have an agreement that a 12 year old will not use a stove or oven while you’re away, but can use a microwave. Whatever you’re comfortable with — but be sure to get your child’s participation in the conversation so that you’ll have his or her buy-in.
  6. What else do you need to anticipate? Leaving the house? Friends coming over? Care for animals? Answering the door? Whatever it is, thinking about it in advance will eliminate a ton of hassles. Not everything, mind you — they ARE teenagers. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
  7. Finally, while it is reasonable to set expectations that they will do some chores while you’re away, try to remember that they are on vacation and they are not home to do all those household projects you wish you had time to do! If you want them to “clean their room,” be really specific — choose one area at a time, so they don’t get overwhelmed and give up. And so they’re not spending an entire week feeling like they never got a break. Seriously — they need some down time! It’s okay to ask them to do SOME work — but be reasonable. It will do a lot for the health of your relationship with them ☺

It would be nice if you could just wisk the family off to the Bahamas for 2 weeks, and never have to worry about how to manage work and family over school vacations. But most of us do not have that luxury, so take the coach approach: use it as an opportunity to foster learning and growth in your kids.

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