Expert Opinion

School Holidays with Amanda Abel

How do I keep the kids entertained over the holidays without spending a fortune?

While we don’t need to over-schedule our kids and ‘keep them busy’, it is nice to have some variation in their days while on holidays/term breaks. Having said that, it can get really expensive to keep things interesting over the holidays – and with the rising cost of living right now, we need to get creative with generating some low-cost entertainment.

The key here is about being organised, prepared and planning ahead! This way, you also get a chance to think about how you can reframe some of the activities to keep things sounding exciting for your kids!

Some of my tips include:

  • Sit down a few weeks out and make a calendar of the holidays – include any pre-existing commitments like work and appointments. Look to add balance between some time at home where the kids can have down-time and be creative (yes, boredom can lead to creativity!) and structured time both at home and out and about. Schedule in the activities and try to stick to your plan if possible.
  • Think about making a couple of lists – one for wet weather activities and another for say sunny day activities. This can help if you live somewhere with variable weather (hello Melbourne!) so that you don’t have to do too much thinking and planning on a day-to-day basis. With lists, you can simply choose an activity in the morning, and get going.
  • Consider free or low cost activities at your local library, art gallery, museum and zoo.
  • Think about day trips if your child can tolerate time in the car.Visiting a beach or national park nearby can be fun, and remember to take along a packed lunch/snacks and some outdoor activities (ball, bat, racquets etc.). Or if you don’t want to travel too far, locate your nearest botanic gardens and head there with a picnic – take the teddies for a teddy bear picnic.
  • Lock in some playdates with your child’s friends – perhaps tag-team hosting with the other parents to share the load.
  • Keep your kids entertained wherever you are, by providing some structure to the setting. So, if you’re on a day out wandering around a national park, give them a list (use pictures for younger kids) of things to find. You could get them to take photos on your phone while out and about and then when you get home (or maybe another day, because let’s face it, you’ll probably be exhausted after an outing with the kids!), create a recount story on the computer or iPad with the photos your children have taken.
  • For days at home, get googling for inspiration, there are heaps of ideas for keeping the kids entertained at home. But the key is really about doing this in advance so that you’re able to think calmly and clearly, pick up any resources or materials you may need, and plan out what the activities will look like.

As always, planning will go a long way to help you make the most of your time with your child while allowing for less stress!

How do I manage behaviours on holidays?

School holidays are just around the corner for many of us – and this is the time of year that I get a lot of questions from parents about how to manage behaviours. Even if your child is not yet school aged, you probably find that school holidays impact your life in some way – the shopping centre is busier, some of your regular activities might not run over the holidays, or maybe you have kinder or school aged children at home.

Holidays can get hard because they’re different – the structure provided by our normal routine can be lost, and that can leave kids with mixed emotions. Of course they’re often really happy to perhaps be having a break to the routine, but at the same time they can feel unsettled.  Holidays can also bring boredom – and sibling arguments! Sounds like a recipe for disaster doesn’t it?

But, there are ways to manage the situation quite effectively – and it typically involves embedding structure into your holidays. Whether you’re juggling work and kids at home, or away on holiday somewhere – structure is your friend. Yes, it can be tempting to throw all the rules and routines out the window to give yourself a break over these periods, but in all honesty – nine times out of ten losing the structure will make your life harder!

Why? Because when kids don’t have the structure, rules, boundaries and expectations – they can actually start to feel ‘unsafe’ for want of a better word. Kids actually need boundaries to know that you’re looking out for them – even though they seem to be constantly pushing against those boundaries and testing you with the rules! However, when the boundaries keep moving, or are removed altogether – we tend to see an increase in challenging behaviours.

Here are some ways you can implement structure during the holidays – regardless of where you are and what you’re doing:

  • Set up clear rules for your family and be consistent with them
  • Use visual schedules and calendars to show your child what’s planned for the week, or day, ahead
  • Allow a sense of control for your child – perhaps they can give suggestions for things they’d like to do over the holidays
  • Schedule some down-time for your child to just be at home. The benefits of this are that they will have time to process information and not be in an overstimulating/overwhelming environment. Depending on the child this might be something that needs to happen every day or every couple of days.
  • Adding to the point above – down time can do wonders for your child’s creativity. Being bored can get them thinking outside the box and you might be amazed at what ensues.
  • Plan for each day to fit into a vague routine – be as specific as you feel your child needs.

What are some tips for travelling with kids?

My biggest piece of advice for travelling with kids is to be prepared and organised. With personal experience travelling as a family, as well as what I’ve learned from my clients over the years, I can’t stress enough the importance of planning ahead!

If you’ll be flying, it’s helpful to think about a few factors before you even book:

  • How long will we be in transit for?
  • Is my child likely to sleep?
  • What time will we arrive?

Thinking about these points will help you determine whether you should fly during the day or at night. I always preferred daytime travel if the flight was less than about 9 hours and the timezone wasn’t drastically different (think Asia etc.) because it means you can keep your child entertained on the plane and arrive at the destination in time for bed – meaning you won’t muck up sleep patterns too much.

If you’re flying during sleep time, think about how you can promote sleep with an eye mask (if appropriate for their age) and sleep associations (things that your child associates with sleep) such as headphones with their lullabies and their favourite nighttime cuddly toy.

Regardless of how you’re travelling, you’ll need a decent arsenal of activities to entertain your child. Get googling for ideas – there are endless suggestions online for ways to keep kids busy on planes or road trips. I recommend keeping your activities as a surprise and having enough to present your child with a new one at regular intervals. I recall having something new to present each hour on a flight between Melbourne and Singapore with my then very active 4-year-old – colouring books, sticker books, aqua art etc.

The longer you can delay the screens during your journey, the better. Then you’ve always got something to pull out if/when your child reaches the point of frustration and overtiredness and just needs some redirection.  And always pack more snacks than you think you will need. And the same goes for spare sets of clothes!

You’ll notice my tips are largely centred around making life easier for YOU. The parent. This is because travelling can be stressful even for us adults – particularly when we have little people’s needs to consider. But if you’re feeling more confident, and less stressed, you’ll have fewer behaviours to worry about and if difficult moments do arise, you’ll be better able to handle them.

How do I deal with my fussy eater while we are away on holiday?

This is a great question and one that I came across a lot when I ran a feeding clinic for fussy and problem feeders. In fact, many clients I’ve worked with over the years have avoided certain types of holidays solely due to their child’s fussy eating. Not being able to source the few foods that your child eats when you’re away does not make for a very fun holiday for anyone.

It’s important here to make the distinction between fussy eaters and problem feeders. The latter will typically have an organic reason for their feeding difficulties and you’ll need guidance on how to best approach their limited diet.

However, for many children, particularly those who fall more into the ‘fussy’ eating category, being on holiday can expose them to new foods and allow an absolute explosion of progress.

Some ideas include:

  • Make a list of the foods your child eats which you’ll be able to order at restaurants. Don’t be limited by ‘breakfast foods’ and ‘dinner foods’ – if your child eats fried eggs and white rice at home, try asking for this regardless of the time of day.
  • Researching the types of foods that will be available at your destination will be really helpful – if practical, you could contact your hotel or resort to explain your concerns and find out what solutions might be available.
  • Remember that if you need to choose between the two, a full tummy is more important than exploring new foods. So set your goals accordingly.
  • If practical, pack as many non-perishable preferred foods as possible.
  • Some families find that booking accommodation with a kitchen is extremely helpful as it gives the opportunity to cook the foods your child prefers.
  • Packing the breakfast food that your child will eat (if possible) can set you up for success by giving them a full tummy at the start of the day. You can also offer this at other times if they’re hungry and you’re not finding anything else to snack on.

Remember a child may need to interact with a food up to 100 times before being able to eat it. So holidays can be a great way to work out what your little fussy eater will tolerate at the table on your plate, on their own plate and even what they’re willing to touch. This opportunity to expose your child to new foods beyond what you might normally come across at home, is such a valuable learning tool – particularly when you as the parent are relaxed and enjoying these moments with your child.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.