50 sanity-saving summer holiday activities

Now the summer holidays are well underway, are you running out of ideas to keep the children busy? Don’t panic! Here are 50 of my favourite sanity-saving holiday activities.

50-sanity-saving-summer-holiday-activities

  1. Visit the library.
  2. Build Lego models.
  3. Go hunting for new games in the charity shops.
  4. Make a den under the table/behind the sofa.
  5. Decorate the path/patio with chalk.
  6. Have scooter races.
  7. Write postcards to your family and friends.
  8. Make junk models from the contents of the recycling bin.
  9. Make pizza.
  10. Write Christmas wish-lists.
  11. Make a scrapbook of your summer with photos, tickets, and drawings.
  12. Design your own board game.
  13. Make Christmas cards.
  14. Make things out of holey socks.
  15. Design your own T-shirt.
  16. Go swimming.
  17. Do a garden treasure hunt.
  18. Blow bubbles.
  19. Make your own ice cream (whisked double cream + tin of condensed milk + extras).
  20. Fly a kite.
  21. Play musical statues.
  22. Have a board games tournament (play all the games you have and see who is Winner of Winners).
  23. Get brochures from the travel agent and plan a perfect holiday (cut out pictures of the nicest hotel, swimming pool, food, etc)
  24. Rearrange their bedroom furniture (if they will cope with the change).
  25. Home spa – nail varnishing, massage, give each other hairdos…
  26. Plant flowers.
  27. Use printable activity sheets (these Twinkl outdoor activity sheets are free to download).
  28. Make ice lollies.
  29. Play with Fuzzy Felt.
  30. Make people out of lolly sticks and washi tape.
  31. Go to the beach.
  32. Find a playground you haven’t visited before.
  33. Visit a pick-your-own farm.
  34. Make fairy cakes.
  35. Make models out of Plasticine or Fimo.
  36. Go blackberrying.
  37. Make your own animation (a friend gave this to Joanna and it is very fun).
  38. Visit a pet shop.
  39. Make a scene with gel art window decorations.
  40. Go litter-picking with grabbers.
  41. Earn a Blue Peter badge.
  42. Make an alarm to keep your annoying sister out of your bedroom.
  43. Make wax rubbings of coins, leaves, Lego bricks…
  44. Design a new pencil case for going back to school.
  45. Go birdwatching/tree-spotting/vehicle-spotting with an I-spy book.
  46. Create a mini-book about something you love.
  47. Put on an audiobook.
  48. Fill an in-car entertainment station.
  49. Create an animal footprint tray for your garden.
  50. Do a science experiment.

And if none of those will work today, my vote is for putting a new film on their Kindles and having a small doze on the sofa. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

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Self-Care Week, Day 7: Superfluities

Welcome to the seventh in my series of the Components of Self-Care. If you missed the previous parts in the series, the links are below. You can read them in any order.

If you missed them, here’s where you can find the previous posts:
1: Sleep
2: Support
3: Sports
4: Sustenance
5: Space
6: Spirituality

Superfluities

health, wellness, treats, self-care, adoption, families, adoptive, parents, parenting, adopted, children

Yes, I’m stretching the alliteration again, using ‘superfluities’ (unnecessary extras) to mean treats. Rewards, if you like. The fun stuff.

If, when I collect them from school,  I tell my children that I have got a treat for them waiting at home, their first thought is almost always that it will be something edible. I may in theory be a grown-up, but the word ‘treat’ also has the same effect on me.

There is an adoption professional of my acquaintance who delivered some training I was on last summer. In the part of the training on self-care we were all asked to identify a treat and draw it on our name badges. Mine (notwithstanding my limited artistic abilities) looked like this:



Several group members drew gardening-related things on their badges. I respect that. I’m not sure it falls into the ‘treat’ category for me, but I can see how that works as a relaxing activity. The course leader, however, said that her idea of a treat was a luxury shower gel. I’m sorry, but no.

I don’t care if it smells of unicorn breath and ultra-rare Himalayan orchids. It is soap. Thus, shower gel is not a treat. Tweet: I don't care if it smells of unicorn breath and himalayan orchids. Shower gel is *soap*, not a treat. @hlmeadows http://ctt.ec/f93Y4+

I get that a bath is a treat for some, mainly because it equals warmth, solitude and book-reading time. I can totally get on board with that even though I prefer showers myself. But a shower gel? I am still shaking my head in disbelief at that one.

What constitutes a treat?
So having established that shower gel does not qualify, what is a treat? And what types of treats work best as forms of self-care?

Though I like to talk about chocolate and obviously like to eat it (duh), it’s not the greatest example of a treat because it’s not overwhelmingly healthy and therefore undermines the idea of taking care of yourself (see this post on sustenance). I guess if you’re the sort of person who is good at stopping eating chocolate after a couple of squares then fine. I admire your self-control. I am rubbish at that, so I’d go for safer options. Things I’d put in the treat category include massages, haircuts, spa days, trips to the cinema, books, CDs/music downloads, things that make you happy and won’t have a negative impact on your health, your amount of sleep, etc.

Hardcore parenting needs proper hardcore treats. Ideally whole weekends of treatfulness at a time, like taking up residence in a spa, but I do live in the real world, so maybe spending a few quid for someone else to do a chore you hate (ironing, cleaning the car, etc) while you sit in Starbucks and read would work for you (it does for me, every time).

The point is that self-care shouldn’t be the light at the end of the tunnel that we’re going to reward ourselves with once we get through the current struggle. It should be something we build into our daily/weekly/monthly routines as part of the process of dealing with the challenges of adoptive parenting. I know this doesn’t come easily to many people. We are told repeatedly during our training as prospective adopters that the children come first and it is all about them. This is right and proper and appropriate, of course. But if their care is paramount, then their carers’ wellbeing and ability to provide the well-regulated, loving care that the children need is also vital to a healthy adoptive family life.

[Update: could someone maybe mention this to post-adoption support?]

The best post-adoption support recognises the needs of both children and parents and helps the whole family. Tweet: The best PAS recognises the needs of children *and* parents, and helps the *whole family*. @hlmeadows http://ctt.ec/LcgUq+

Why treats matter
Adoptive parenting is a long haul. It’s not possible to live in full-on therapeutic wonderparent mode all day, every day until your child leaves home aged 18/21/30/whatever. It is vital to build in self-care as a regular ‘way of being’ in order to avoid burnout, and treats are a helpful part of that. And by, treats, remember, we don’t mean shower gel. Or lunch (unless it’s a really nice lunch, perhaps). Writer Kristin Wong explains it succinctly:

‘Rewarding yourself with an indulgence is one thing. But using your basic comfort and sanity as a reward can be problematic, and many times, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. For example, when I’m in the middle of work, I’ll often postpone eating lunch, even if I’m very hungry. I don’t call nourishment a “reward,” but that’s what it becomes. The carrot at the end of the stick. But if I took the time to refuel myself, work would probably come a lot easier.’ (Source: Lifehacker)

Kristin’s point applies to parenting as much as to writing. If I am looking after the girls for a weekend when Pete is away (as I am at the moment), I will make sure I build in a trip to a soft play place where I can get a decent coffee and read a book, for example. Little oases of sanity-saving self-care help me to regroup and come back to the task of parenting with a clearer head.

Gretchen Rubin (one of my favourite authors, whose book Better Than Before I’m reading at the moment) explains the importance of treats:

‘Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which in turn boosts self-command. When we don’t get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and we feel justified in self-indulgence.’

Summary
So giving ourselves treats helps us feel in control. Feeling in control, as adoptive parents all know, is helpful to being emotionally regulated, and being emotionally regulated is a vital part of therapeutic parenting as we try to pass that state on to frequently dysregulated children. Therefore treating ourselves is a really helpful part of parenting our children well. Showing ourselves that care and respect is also a great model for our children of everyone’s intrinsic value and ‘treat-deservedness’.

Works for me. Pass the shower gel.



I would love to hear your thoughts on the importance of treats to your own self-care. Are they something you are making a deliberate part of your life, or an ad-hoc afterthought?  Are there particular treats you find helpful as an adoptive parent? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag.


Sunday self-care blog badge
You’ll have noticed that this was the seventh of the seven components of self-care. You may be throwing up your hands in dismay that we have reached the end of the series (unlikely, but play along for the sake of my self-esteem, if you would). Fear not, for next week is still a self-care Sunday. I’ll be reviewing the Blurt Foundation‘s November ‘Buddy Box‘. And I’ll be self-care Sunday-ing every Sunday after that, too.

Don’t forget, if you’d like to join in the conversation on your own blog, you can grab the blog badge here.

Have a great week.

Further reading
Gretchen Rubin on the psychology of rewarding yourself with treats
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner (about self-care in general)

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Review: How to talk so kids will listen

I read this book primarily because I am taking part in the newly-formed therapeutic parents’ book club (#tpbooks), which was initiated by @PedallingSolo on Twitter. (Genius idea. Come and join us. More of that in a moment.)

The premise of the book is that we can improve communication with our children by going about the whole business a bit differently. It’s not adoption-specific, but nor is it full of the sort of advice that is unhelpful for adoptive families (the sticker charts and naughty steps stuff). Adopted children are mentioned as having benefited from this style of parenting, and it’s easy to see why, as it is mainly about being very attentive to children’s emotions.

Here’s the back-cover blurb.

All sounds good to me. But what does it ask parents to do in practice?

1: Helping children deal with their feelings
The first chapter talks about giving children your full attention whenever possible, and about recognising and naming their emotions.

In our family, we have established that asking questions often causes or worsens a meltdown, and that ‘Why?’ in particular rarely gets the intended results and usually causes screaming. The book develops this theme, suggesting several alternative ways to go about the conversation without making things worse.

‘Very often children don’t know why they feel as they do. At other times they’re reluctant to tell because they fear that in the adult’s eyes their reason won’t seem good enough. (“For that you’re crying?”) It’s much more helpful for an unhappy youngster to hear, “I see something is making you sad,” rather than to be interrogated with “What happened?” or “Why do you feel that way?” It’s easier to talk to a grown-up who accepts what you’re feeling rather than one who presses you for explanations.’

When Joanna had a meltdown over a felt-tip pen she felt her sister was monopolising, I tried using the drawing technique from this chapter – just asking her to draw her feelings a few times to show me how she was feeling. Her response?

‘I DON’T NEED TO DRAW HOW I’M FEELING!
YOU CAN SEE HOW I’M FEELING!
I’M NOT DOING IT!’

I described what I saw rather than asking questions. ‘I see that you’re upset because I’ve asked you to sit on the sofa and you wanted to carry on with your picture. I couldn’t let you stay at the table because you were shouting at your sister.’ Did it help her calm down like the boy in the book? Er, no. This happened:

And a lot more shouting. ‘You don’t love me, you always stop me doing fun things, you’re not a nice mummy… (etc)’. So I sent her to her room to read her book and calm down. I asked Charlotte to finish drinking her water. She refused and started a meltdown, so I tried it on her. I drew how I thought she was feeling:

And she corrected me:

‘No, Mummy. For me, life is a perpetual stream of rainbows and ponies!’

Whatever.

Anyway, by the time she’d drawn that, she was calm again. Joanna returned after about 20 minutes clutching a picture she’d drawn and apologising…

…so I make that at least a 50 per cent success rate.

2: Engaging cooperation
This chapter compares different approaches to getting a child to do something (e.g. put on their pyjamas or set the table). These transition-type activities are a frequent trigger for Joanna and Charlotte who struggle with changing activities before they feel ready to. The book says to try describing a problem rather than issuing instructions, so ‘The towel is on the floor’ rather than ‘Hang up the towel’.

I loved the honesty in this chapter, particularly where the authors talk about how it’s important to be authentic and not fake patience you’re not feeling when children are not responding. This is a book I can relate to! I don’t believe any adoptive parent is able to stay perfectly therapeutic at all times.

I like to think that I usually make sure I am describing situations and my feelings rather than lecturing the children, though I admit to asking ‘Who has forgotten to clean the sink/hang up the towel/put their socks in the laundry basket?’ quite often. I made a particular effort to do this when I read this chapter. It did achieve the desired results most of the time, but Joanna tearfully and apologetically told me at bedtime that she finds my ‘calm voice’ (her label) really annoying. And again on the school run. Well. That told me. I can’t win.

But ‘Your bedroom light is on’ has worked with Charlotte where a ‘Please switch off your light’ might have provoked a strop, so I’m going to keep trying this one.

3: Alternatives to punishment
I really liked this chapter. This is something we’ve really struggled with, because we believe there should be consequences for deliberate bad choices, but Pete and I haven’t always agreed on exactly how to handle this.

The book suggests a few techniques, including list-making in order to negotiate a solution. I’m hoping we can try this out and see if it works for us.  The idea of sitting down together and writing lists of ideas to solve problems really appeals to both of us, and I think the girls will like it if we can catch them soon enough pre-meltdown. That’s the trick to a lot of this stuff though, and sometimes the meltdown comes on so quickly that there just isn’t any time to do anything other than damage limitation. An example from this weekend:

We get into the car. We drive off.

Charlotte: ‘Can we have the music on?’
Pete: ‘Not at the moment. I want to talk to Mummy.’
Charlotte: ‘I WANT THE MUSIC ON! PUT THE MUSIC ON!’

The shouting/screaming continues for five minutes. Pete pulls over because Charlotte’s becoming dangerous. We pre-emptively remove her shoes. She kicks Pete in the head. We sit there for half an hour waiting for her to calm down. She won’t listen to anything we say to try and help her, just screams what we say back at us. Me and Pete, still recovering from Joanna having a similar episode the previous day, sit there and cry in exhaustion and desperation.

So we haven’t tried this yet. We did have a few conversations about grace when they were calmer, and how ‘I am giving you this packet of Haribo because I love you, not because I like your behaviour’. Whether they can process that I’m not sure. I think it helps to draw a line under things and move on.

4: Encouraging autonomy
This chapter is about allowing the children to take responsibility for their actions by giving them opportunities to decide how they are going to fulfil a requirement eg to finish their homework by a certain day, remember to take things they need to school, etc. I like the idea of giving a child suggestions and telling them work out a solution that they can have ownership of. I think Joanna would respond well to this. Charlotte probably would on her good days, but I don’t know that she would manage to do it consistently – a symptom of what we suspect is FASD. We’ll try it though, and see what happens.

5: Praise
The emphasis of this chapter is on being more descriptive of children’s good behaviour. Not just ‘good job!’ but ‘I see that you’ve made the bed, cleared everything off the floor, and tidied your shelves – excellent organisation!’ It also says to say how this makes you feel, such as ‘This room feels so calm and relaxing now’, and to include a one-word label for the behaviour – ‘organisation’, or ‘reliability’ or ‘punctuality’, for example.

The day I finished the book happened to be the last day of school before half term, and Joanna has had such a massively improved work ethic so far this term that I thought she needed rewarding. I left a new book for her on her bed (the much-longed-for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) along with a note about how hard she’d been working at school and on the de-escalation techniques she’s been learning in therapy. I admit to feeling a bit twee and Californian about writing ‘but the best reward is how you can feel proud of yourself’ – I come from a long line of stiff-upper-lip Brits who don’t really talk like that – but our family does do talking about emotions, and it’s what she needs, so I got over myself.

I didn’t leave Charlotte out – we had a trip to the library and the cafĂ© while Joanna was at after-school club. Reading is much more of a struggle for her so I wrote her a voucher for a treat to go with her hot chocolate. She chose a biscuit and happily read me three books and a set of vocabulary flash cards from school. I felt like supermum for that hour. Then we picked Joanna up and Charlotte had two sit-down protests on the walk home because she ‘couldn’t walk’ (her ability to run in the other direction was miraculously unaffected) and wanted to bring a stick home and didn’t have enough hands (my fault, of course). Eventually we got home and I managed to stay therapeutic throughout two long hours of tantrum, but I’m afraid I had had enough by hour three and finally shouted at her to GO TO BED in a decidedly untherapeutic manner. I am human after all. Phew.

Summary: I think maybe we need to give the praise thing a bit longer to have the desired effect. I love the idea but it’s going to take some remembering.

6: Freeing children from playing roles
This was an interesting one for me. I have been very conscious of not wanting to label the children, mainly as a feminist issue. I certainly don’t do it in a conscious way, but when I read this chapter I stopped to think. Actually, truth be told, there are a few. Not all are said to their faces, but they are words we often use to describe them, if only in our own heads.

Noisy. Bright. Destructive. Impulsive. Loud. Fussy. Argumentative. Beautiful. Boisterous. Violent.

So I tried to challenge these and to praise quietness, hard work, gentleness, thoughtfulness, acceptance, and teamwork. A couple of times I slid notes under their bedroom doors after they were asleep, praising the good stuff I’d seen that day.

Is it working? It’s too early to say. Again, this stuff almost certainly has a cumulative effect and requires us to remember and think of things to write and muster enthusiasm for doing it after a long day. Maybe a reminder on my phone would help.

7: Putting it all together
This summary chapter is hard to disagree with. ‘We want to find a way to live with one another so that we can feel good about ourselves and help the people we love feel good about themselves.’ ‘We want to find a way that makes it possible for our children to be caring and responsible.’ Yes. Of course. Don’t we all?

I like this book and I could list a handful of situations where we have helped the children to de-escalate using the technique of empathy and labelling (‘I expect you feel frustrated that there’s no time to watch TV because you were hoping to watch it before dinner.’) But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes they’ve yelled ‘NO I AM NOT FRUSTRATED!’ and other times they’ve gone for ‘NO, YOU ARE FRUSTRATED!’ – either way, rejecting the idea that we could possibly understand and empathise with them. And yes, this was frustrating. There’s an irony there somewhere.

Summary
So in summary, this book has some useful tools which we’ll continue to explore. For our situation, we need to supplement them with some others, but I can see how the techniques here would work to help build the girls’ self-esteem and resilience if used consistently. Now if someone can just help me with the energy to put it all into practice every day, we’ll be laughing.

The therapeutic parents’ book club
If you liked the sound of this book, you can buy it on Amazon here. And if you’d like to join us, the therapeutic parents’ book club meets on Twitter on the first of the month between 8.00 and 9.00pm. We use the hashtag #tpbooks. Come and join the conversation tonight, or read the next book [details to be confirmed] and participate next time.

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In praise of screen time

It’s the silence I like best, I think.

My children are often lovely, funny, helpful, kind, and generally delightful. And equally often… not those things. They can fidget for England and they really, really love the sound of their own voices. Our lives are conducted with a soundtrack of chatter (I once heard it described as ‘verbal scribble’, which is exactly right) that drives me to distraction.

Enter the Kindle.

Educational kindle apps

Our interest in getting Kindles started as an educational idea: the school used the Mathletics website and app for maths homework, and we wanted the girls to be able to do it on their own machines rather that mine or Pete’s precious MacBooks which are vital for our work and would almost certainly not cope well with an orange squash spillage. (Mathletics, by the way, is awful: the app has limited functionality and the website often crashes, causing much frustration all round. School now seem to have given up on it too. DoodleMaths is much better.) Having researched tablets, we found that the combination of a Black Friday deal and Tesco Clubcard points meant that they were as close to free as they were going to get. So we bought them as Christmas presents, loaded them up with content, and had the quietest Christmas yet. Success!

Gus on the Go

When the girls are plugged in to their Kindles they are quiet, still, absorbed. They listen to stories. They watch the videos we’ve installed (and we don’t have to be subjected to Frozen on the TV). Joanna reads. (We’re still working on that with Charlotte.) There are games and apps of the ‘education in disguise’ variety, such as ‘Gus on the Go‘, which features an owl who is teaching them French and Russian (naturally) and a bit of surreptitious maths in various shopping games. In short, it is a Good Thing, and because the parental controls are highly customisable, it is locked down to what is safe and appropriate for our children: no internet, no camera, no shopping facility (yikes, the idea). We vet it all and they’re happy.

Fire for Kids Unlimited

We tried a ‘Fire for Kids Unlimited‘ subscription for a few months. That filters the content by age and allows the children access to a huge library of videos, books and games for ÂŁ5 a month (ÂŁ8 if you don’t have Amazon Prime – these prices are for up to four children, and a cheaper version for one child is available). We filtered out a few unhelpful things by keyword, but Joanna still came across something she found a bit scary, so we cancelled the subscription and now add everything on manually. I check everything and add something new every month or two.

At the moment (as I mentioned recently) they are very taken with the new additions of Gangsta Granny (thanks to a tip-off from Joanna’s teacher that this will be her topic next term) and Madagasgar (a long-term favourite). They’re quite happy watching both over and over again, so the investment (ÂŁ1.89 and £6.99 respectively) lasts several weeks. Heck, Charlotte is still watching blimmin’ Frozen at least once a week.

Non-screen time

I don’t want to give the impression that our children do nothing but stare at a screen. That’s not the case at all. They love making dens in the garden, climbing trees, drawing and colouring, and are in a swimming lesson as I write this. So I feel no guilt about balancing all the activity and noise with an hour or two of screen time in the afternoon (or, in the holidays, a bit more than that) so I have a bit of peace in the midst of the maelstrom because… self-care klaxon my sanity is important too.

Screen time rules

Our rules aren’t quite as rigid as the picture below but there are sometimes conditions of screen time and it tends to be limited by battery life (for I am the keeper of the chargers, bwah-ha-ha). It works.

Screen time rules: source unknown

tl;dr (short version)

So, in summary, once you’ve got the devices in lockdown from a security perspective, and provided the nippers run about every now and then (which really isn’t a problem for any of the adopted children I know), then screen time is educational and entertaining for them and sanity-saving for the adults and so, as far as I can see, it has no down side.

Even the customer service is great. I needed to contact Amazon about an issue with one of them recently and we were sent a replacement with no hassle within 24 hours. I was impressed. We certainly wouldn’t be without them now, and… I liked theirs so much I bought myself one too.


A note about links

This isn’t a sponsored post – no money has changed hands – I just like Kindles. That said, I do use affiliate links. So if you click through and buy something (say, a Kindle Fire or a childproof case) I get a very tiny amount of cash. Just so we’re all clear.


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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