Holidays for divorced families are often a stressful time as routines and rules are different from one household to another and as a result, children tend to be over-stimulated and sleep-deprived. Symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbances, separation anxiety, withdrawal, rebellion, aggression, tantrums, regression, eating disorders, nervous habits etc.
Ideally, separated parents ought to maintain similar routines and regulations for the sake of the children, but that is not always possible due to different parenting styles and circumstances. In any event, holidays do call for some degree of variation. It is, however, our responsibility as parents to support our children with the transition between different environments and routines. Here are some practical tips to smooth things over:
Engage in positive discussions about school and forthcoming events, as the holiday draws to a close. Get children excited about new endeavours and help them to set goals for the next academic period. Remind them of the friends they will see again and favourite activities they will be able to participate in. Teach them to look forward to whatever lies ahead.
Children often dread the moment when they are handed over from one parent to the other, because of tension and conflict between the parties. Make the hand-over a pleasant occasion, by being excited to see them off or welcome them back. A relaxed, friendly atmosphere will set their minds at ease.
Although you might be very curious about what happened on their holiday, resist the urge to cross-question children. Rather allow them to settle in and recount their adventures at their own pace on their own terms. If they are always grilled, they might clam up and your communication would suffer for it. Take care not to overreact to what they tell you.
Be aware of family members and friends knowingly or unknowingly, alienating children from their other parent. Ensure that interactions and farewells are neutral and without emotional eruptions. The wrong kind of behaviour or comments can make it extremely difficult for a child to readjust comfortably to separation from one parent and being reunited with the other.
Bear in mind that children need much more sleep than adults and it is crucial to their brain and body development.
Promote children's sense of security and stability by re-establishing your regular routines as soon as the holiday ends. These include meals, activities, chores, etc. If they were away on holiday with their other parent, be prepared for their return and welcome them back into the routine immediately. If they were away on holiday with you and have to return to the other parent, talk to them about getting back to their usual routine and encourage them to normalise with ease.
A very important part of the regular family routine is visitation. Confirm the next date and time with the other parent, discuss it with the children and remind them of the last few days of the holiday as well as into the first few days after the holiday. This will ease separation anxiety and adjust back to the normal run of things.
Don't delay on the familiar rituals that have become part of your family life. They will reassure children of their role in the family while providing rich opportunities for re-bonding. Allocate a little extra time for rituals such as reading bedtime stories together, until everyone is settled in again.
Bear in mind that children need much more sleep than adults and it is crucial to their brain and body development. Use the last week of the holiday, to get children back to their normal sleeping routine, gradually. Break the holiday cycle of siestas, late nights and lie-ins, by going to bed a little bit earlier every evening, until you are back to the normal bedtime. Avoid the use of smartphones and tablets up to two hours before going to sleep, as it has been proven to keep users awake. Rather encourage reading books to wind down. When waking up in the morning, kick-start their body clocks by opening the curtains and letting in the sunlight.
If a child's sleeping routine is not reestablished by the time they have to go back to school, they will be exhausted and unable to function optimally. This will cost them at least another week of valuable time adjusting to the academic challenges as well as social interaction with their peers.
Although healthy eating is something that should be maintained at all times, we do tend to skip meals and eat more junk food when on vacation. In order to face the challenges of their normal routine, children would do well to re-establish their healthy habits as soon as possible to ensure proper nutrition and stable energy levels. Cutting down on unhealthy snacks and treats as you approach the new term, would benefit children, parents and teachers alike.
Accept that it will take a while for everyone to get back into the swing of things and try to be lenient during this transition period
Ensuring that children get sufficient daily exercise, whether on holiday or not, keeps them fit and in a good supply of the feel-good hormones. If you have become couch potatoes, participate in some physical activities to get you going again and prepare the kids for the challenges of the new season's sports.
Duties and responsibilities can be re-iterated to refresh everyone's memory and have expectations stated clearly. It is a well-documented fact that children thrive on structure and guidelines. It might be helpful to discuss the differences between the rules of the two separate households at this point, to avoid confusion and misinterpretation at a later stage.
Accept that it will take a while for everyone to get back into the swing of things and try to be lenient during this transition period. Accommodate individual temperaments within reasonable limits. However, it would be wise to agree on a deadline whereby every member of the family has to be with the programme.
It is never wise to abandon all routine and rules during the holidays. For successful co-parenting, a degree of familiar structure and discipline need to be maintained to facilitate a successful transition for the children.