Child psychologist's tips for staying sane over school holidays

While some of the tight COVID-19 alert level 3 restrictions of the last couple of months are loosening just in time for school holidays, for many parents the coming weeks will feel little like a holiday. 

Staring down the barrel of yet more weeks juggling working from home whilst children keep up with school lessons over Zoom calls and devices during level three may feel quite daunting this time around. 

Dr Emma Woodward, child psychologist and founder and director at The Child Psychology Service, told Newshub she completely understands if parents have mixed emotions about the upcoming school holidays - she too is at home with her four boys, aged 10 years and younger.

Dr Woodward has put together some key tips to help parents manage their emotions and expectations over the upcoming school holidays.

Accept and acknowledge your emotions 
It's okay to acknowledge that the current situation we find ourselves in isn't ideal, but what we can do is accept that this is what we've got to work with. If we can't change our scenery, we can change the energy of the holidays to be mindful of how we structure, or don't structure, our day to make it different from a term time lockdown day. 

Manage your mindset 
These holidays are going to be mainly about managing our own emotions and cultivating the right mindset. Try to focus on tolerating distress, impatience, guilt or feelings of being overwhelmed by letting go of your expectations of what these school holidays 'should be like'. We cannot change the situation but we can change how we feel about it, try to remember that if we're okay our kids will be okay too. 

Stay present
Try to stay in the present moment. We are more than our thoughts, but our thoughts have a good deal of control over how we feel. Notice them, acknowledge them, but be mindful of the fact that you don't need to act on them, unless you want to. When you feel your mind wandering ask yourself: "What story must I be telling myself about the situation and how is that making me feel? Is it calming me or harming me?" 

Name your emotions 
As you experience different emotions it can help to name them as you feel them: "I'm noticing I'm feeling frustrated." The act of naming your emotions let's your limbic system know you've received the message which means you are less likely to get hooked up into it. Continue to acknowledge your emotions, breathe through it and wait for it to pass.

Be calm 
Yes, I know, it's always easier said than done! But slowing down, both your breathing and your mind, can help guide you into a calm state. You can consciously relax and move your body to help feel calm. Try moving your face into a half smile position, this relaxes our face muscles and mimics the facial expression of serenity, which in turn relaxes the mind. Take a moment to turn your palms upwards whilst inhaling and exhaling purposefully to release tension. By practicing these we can intentionally use the body/mind connection to counteract agitation and stress and restore a sense of calm.

Form a different perspective 
Remember what the excitement of the school holidays felt like to you as a child. Although this time around the holidays might not seem as fun during lockdown, try to reflect back to your own school holidays when you were a kid, connect with that excitement of things changing and gears shifting down and act on it. 

Practice gratitude 
Try your best to remember that we're in this situation because we're fortunate to be keeping safe and protecting others. I suggest asking yourself and the kids: what three awesome things are you grateful for today? Write them out on post it notes or in a journal, or share what you're grateful for everyday around the dinner table. 

Get outside and into nature 
Now that socially distanced outdoor playdates are allowed, consider meeting with another family for a walk or a picnic. Keep up the daily walks to get out in the fresh air. Interact in a different way with nature by planting some seeds at the start of the holiday and watching them develop into seedlings to celebrate the passing of time in spring. Put your focus into nurturing something and watching it grow and change, rather than looking out at what we 'can't' or 'should' be doing. If you're up for a proper staycation why not try camping in the backyard! 

Plan ahead for the summer holidays 
Any time you feel like you've been short-changed this time around, pop it into a wish jar for Christmas (all being well!). This helps place mark your plans but also creates a sense that this situation is temporary. 

Kids will be kids 
Expect them to be a bit tetchier and be a bit more rambunctious in their behaviour over these next few weeks. Do your best to let it go, you'll do more harm than good by clamping down and projecting your frustration onto the situation. Be playful, jump on the tramp, build dens, plant seeds, read together, watch movies together, bake, walk, learn a new skill or undertake a family challenge - be present and connect. This too shall pass and when it does make sure you look back on some parts of it fondly.