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Thriving as a family in the Summer Holidays

You want to have a great summer; you want to feel really connected with everyone in your family and make great memories and have a rest and relaxing time. Oh, and for your children to have a positive enriching time. Not much to want, eh?

Having spent time talking with parents, there is a theme of wanting to make up for what has been a tough time for all in the family. Many parents are aware that they haven’t had the opportunities to go to the places they have wanted to with their loved ones. There is also a sense of loss and lost time for enjoying life. Focusing on this sense of loss can create a pressure to compensate with an activity pack summer. On top of that, social media will have you convinced that every family out there is having the best quality time Those pictures and captions will hint that the children are gaining vital life skills that are enhancing them beyond the norm and that these skills can only be obtained through this specific experience. Well it’s not true, let’s be honest it can all be a bit much if we succumb to this and do that thing of comparing ourselves to others. Which is never a good idea as we are all are different and meant to be living OUR lives and not mimicking someone else’s.

So, to get back on track, how are we going to give ourselves and our children opportunities to thrive through simple and free activities this Summer? Read on to gain some practical information that will help guide you when deciding how to make this summer a positive and still a compensatory one after the tough 17 months we have all had. While all of this will read as obvious stuff and you sort of knew it before you read it. It is about resetting your mindset and the doing it that really matters.

1 Summer Loving

Sounds simple? Maybe but we can be so busy physically and mentally that we need reminding about how the simple stuff has the most power. Shouting “I love you” as we see them off to school is a sweet daily ritual. Sometimes our rituals lose their power though. This summer become more mindful of the power of sharing our love in the small moments of the day. Hugging is amazing and changes our brain chemistry when done with intention. When we hug (or have cuddles) we release oxytocin, a chemical that is key for our emotional wellbeing. Oxytocin helps us feel connected and belonging to others which combats anxiety. Also, oxytocin counteracts the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, hugging lowers the effects of stress on our bodies! How fab is that?

To get these benefits, mindfully HUG. Lean in for hugs. Make a conscious decision to have hugs that last (approx. 20 seconds) and where you are completely in the moment of connecting with your loved one. Feel your love for the person, feel the gratitude you have that you have them in your life and you are having this moment together. Physically hold each other up. You have been doing it metaphorically since the start of the pandemic, now allow the hugging to do it for you.

2 Free time

There is much psychological evidence to demonstrate that we are not better off (physically and emotionally) when all our free time is fully scheduled. And that we do not need to be together as one family in all our free time to be a happy family.

Children thrive when they have unstructured time. The beauty of this type of free time is that the children are in charge of the planning, problem solving and most importantly they are being creative about how they spend their time. The brain absolutely thrives when this is how we spend our time. Research has shown that free time consistently trumps structured play time. So that trip to the woods or the meadow will be more impactful on our bodies and brains compared to the hour spent in soft play. Rediscover the open spaces near where you live and explore them this summer, it will be very positive and powerful for all.

In terms of recuperating after the extra tough school year, one of the most effective ways to enable children to this, is to make sure they have plenty of unstructured play time. It is what they are designed to do – just let them figure things out as they go. Their brains will thrive from the openness of this time and the freedom they have (think about how rigid their day is during term time). Be mindful that for the first few times, they may struggle to know what they want to do because this way of being may be alien to them and they may lack confidence in themselves to “do the right thing” (there is no right thing). Remind them that they can start doing one thing and then change their mind at any time – it is their free time!

3 Alone time is healthy

Everyone needs time by themselves (including you). Sometimes, children see alone time as lonely time so this could be something to chat about first. It is key to acknowledge that time by ourselves is very healthy for us (and our brains). While human are social beings and we are better for being with others, it is equally important that we have time by ourselves. This time can be powerful for giving us a space to recover from the stresses we had endured during pandemic living. We don’t have to fill this time with lots of serene activities, we can just start by being with ourselves (device free). It’s important that children have their own sense of self, with an insight into their likes and dislikes. Time figuring this out and doing what they want by themselves is a core way of achieving this sense of self.

4 A change is as good as a rest

The saying “a change is as good as a rest” fits brilliantly when we think about the brain and its health. After the school year, the brain needs time off /a rest. This is vitally important for the health of our brain and body. And by rest, I mean a complete change of environment. In other words, the opposite to being indoors (in a classroom or on a screen). There is data that claims that children in the UK spend less time outdoors then prisoners! This can be easily rectified. Make sure you and your children (even the teenagers) are getting out every single day and that they are out for at least 20 minutes. The benefits of being outdoors will have a positive impact on the physiology of the body once we are outdoors for at least 20 minutes. Now, remember that once we are out, it is easier to stay out so do plan for being out for as long as you can be (pack a bag with snacks, drinks, tissues, etc).

5 Fun and silliness are on to do list – for everyone!

Being silly is an essential activity for all of us. Light-heartedness and laughing are part of our evolution. We are designed to have fun! Laughing is a primal activity that has so many functions for us humans. It is a social activity that enables us to connect with ourselves and others because laughter is a brilliant way to express ourselves and is a known stress buster. Be silly with your family! Be silly every day.

If things have gone off kilter over the last 18 months for your family or one of your children and you want to use the summer as a time to right this, then do so. But do so gently. Do so by focusing on just one small thing and committing to that with one thing – day in day out. The benefits may not be noticeable straight away, but the benefits will grow and build over the days and weeks. Don’t throw the kitchen sink at the situation and hope one thing will work! Start with one thing and celebrate the small wins you see happening over the coming weeks. What are you going to do differently from today?

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