Spotlight On: Holidays

24 June 2022


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 24 June, 2022

We made it to the end of term but the girls are tired! We are also seeing high levels of illness at the moment – more from influenza than from COVID-19 – and this underlines the need for some proper rest in the upcoming holidays.

Here are a few suggestions for how we can make the most of the holidays to help the girls recuperate and acquire some valuable life skills quite apart from academic study:

Encourage Chores
Many parents today would acknowledge that they have low expectations of their children when it comes to doing household chores. Sometimes this is intentional, and sometimes it’s the unintended consequence of leading busy lives because often it’s faster to do it yourself than to supervise and correct a child who performs the task imperfectly. Whatever the reason, the trend is not great for developing either independence or unselfishness in our children (let alone the burden it places on parents, especially mothers).

Many parents will be working hard throughout the coming school holidays, but the holidays typically allow family life to slow down a bit. This is a perfect opportunity to invest some time in upskilling their children, allowing them the time and space to attempt chores and become more competent. This investment will definitely pay off over time for everyone in the family and is likely to produce more considerate and helpful young people in the longer term.

Some great suggestions for young children are here. For older girls, you could set a goal of having them cook the family meal once or twice a week. This could involve meal planning, setting the table and cooking, with other siblings washing up afterwards. One mother told me that they got started with one of the home-cooking meal delivery services which have exactly the right ingredients and illustrated, step-by-step cooking instructions.

Any of these options involve some planning and patience but the girls will acquire life skills and over time parental involvement can decrease, making that investment very worthwhile.

Encourage Sleep
Most parents are well aware that children and adolescents need lots of sleep. (9-11 hours per night for ages 6-13; 8-10 hours for ages 14-17. And for some individuals add a further hour or two per night).

Most parents know that poor sleep harms mental health, and poor mental health harms sleep.

Most parents know that mental illness is at record levels, that rates are still climbing and that it is starting ever younger.

Most parents will say ‘I don’t mind whether she gets straight As or whether she wins trophies, as long as she’s happy.’

And yet, here’s the unpleasant truth: most young people are not getting anything like enough sleep. It was bad before the pandemic but COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem by destroying daily routines, increasing technology addiction and disrupting sleep hygiene habits.

At school, we are seeing an increase every year in the number of girls with significant mental illness. We will never be able to say with certainty that a particular girl is anxious or depressed because of lack of sleep but, statistically, we know that this is true for multiple girls each year. This is not what anyone wants for their daughter.

I don’t think the problem is that children or parents don’t know what to do. (But here are some resources if you don’t: basic factsmental health issuesrecent research.) Rather, the problem seems to be that we can’t or won’t do what needs to be done. This is not entirely surprising: no matter how much we love our children, it’s hard work to manage this issue and parents are tired, too.

But there is nothing more fundamental to a young person’s health, happiness and ability to learn so,  despite all the demands on your time, attention and patience, I will beg you: for the sake of your daughters, please give daily routines, digital device management and sleep hygiene the attention they need. If things have got a little out of hand, the holidays are the perfect time to get it back under control. (NB: Naps and sleeping in are not part of the solution. Taking the mobile phone out of bedroom is.)

Encourage Reading
Just this morning, one of the Senior School girls was describing Just Read to me as ‘the best thing ever’. Whether you are away from home or in your normal routine, twenty minutes of reading a day will have huge benefits.

I’ve written before about how regular reading makes you smarter but our experience with Just Read has shown that it also has a significant, positive effect on well-being. A girl who keeps reading over the holidays is expanding her knowledge of the world, improving her creativity, building her vocabulary and maintaining her reading fluency and stamina for the return to school. Another advantage of reading is that she isn’t on her phone. It’s increasingly hard for parents to manage devices so habitual activities that don’t involve social media are even more valuable.

Audiobooks are also a great option. Reading print may be better for improving decoding (i.e. learning to read), absorbing very complex ideas or analysing literary techniques, but for most purposes comprehension and vocabulary acquisition are just as good with audiobooks. So planning ahead to find the right audiobooks could pay off, especially if you have a long trip planned.

Finally, just a quick note to say that I will be taking some leave in the first few weeks of Term 3. I am looking forward to some recreation and a bit of downtime, and I hope you will also benefit from some family time and a good rest.