How to have your best summer ever with the kids

Happy family summer holiday
Does the thought of six weeks with your children fill you with dread or delight? Try these low-budget, big-fun tips for making the most of the school hols.

At the end of the summer term, most parents look forward to the long school holidays with mixed feelings. We’re keen to spend some quality time with our kids (and not have to leap out of bed at seven o’clock every morning), but we’re not naïve enough to think we’ll get through the summer with no meltdowns.

But whether you’re spending the holidays at home or jetting off to some exotic destination, embracing some simple strategies could help you make this summer not just good, but the best ever. Here’s how…

1. The eight to one ratio

Constantly nagging your child to clean their teeth/pick up their towel/put their plate in the dishwasher can be exhausting – for both of you. Instead, make an effort to up your ‘nice to nag ratio.’

‘Experts suggest that we should be focusing on eight positive things that our kids do for every negative we tell them off for,’ says 'happiness expert' Andy Cope, author of the Being Brilliant series of books. ‘Children like to be praised, so keep the eight to one ratio in mind, as they’ll want to repeat the behaviour that makes you happy.’

2. Plan ahead

After the busyness of the summer term, few of us want to spend our holidays living according to a timetable, but making a plan of the things you’d like to do as a family over the break will ensure that there’s always something to do in a dull moment.

Grab a big sheet of paper and some coloured pens, and brainstorm possible summer activities with your children. Aim to include a mixture of free or cheap things, like playdates and craft activities, as well as expensive days out. Stick it on the fridge door and cross off activities as you do them, like a summer bucket list.

3. Don’t be afraid of spending time at home

‘Happiness is much more closely linked to relationships than to money,’ says Andy. ‘It doesn’t really matter to children whether you’re in Barbados or the back garden, as long as you’re with them.’

Stock up on cheap and easy things that’ll fill the time at home, such as pavement chalks, water balloons and baking ingredients, and don’t underestimate how much fun can be had with a big empty box.

4. Get together with friends

Okay, so it can be difficult to coordinate diaries in the school holidays, but arranging a few get-togethers, either with school mums or with friends that you don’t get a chance to see in term-time, is a good way to provide your child with company, and yourself with some adult conversation.

5. DON’T count the days till your holiday

We often think that counting the sleeps until we go on holiday is a good way to get everyone excited about going away, but according to Andy, it’s a habit to break. ‘When you’re counting down, it’s as if you’re saying, “I’ve got to get these two weeks out of the way, and then I can be happy,”’ he explains. ‘It teaches children to put their happiness in the future, rather than the here and now.’

By all means, build the anticipation of going on holiday, but try to do that by talking about what it’ll be like and what you’ll do there, rather than counting the days until you go.

6. Start a ‘to be list’

Lots of us are slaves to the to do list, especially during the holidays when it can feel even harder to fit work and chores around the family. ‘Instead of a to do list, think about your “to be list” instead,’ suggests Andy. ‘Try to focus less on what you’re doing and more on who you’re being while you’re doing it.’

This helps us concentrate on what’s really important. For example, would your child rather have a spotless house but a tired, overstretched parent, or some comfortable clutter and a parent who’s happy to let it go?

7. Tackle jobs together

Unfortunately, everyday life doesn’t grind to a halt in the school hols, and some tasks need to be done as usual. Bear in mind, though, that children – especially younger ones – love nothing more than to be with you, and helping you with household chores such as dusting the windowsills and packing away outgrown clothes from their wardrobe can actually be a treat.

8. Take social media with a pinch of salt

One of the perils of Facebook and Instagram is that you’re permanently being reminded of how perfect other people’s lives are. But try to remember that everyone paints an airbrushed picture of their family life on social media, and your friends really aren't having 100 times more fun than you.

‘Some families spend tens of thousands of pounds on exotic holidays but then don’t actually enjoy the time together, while other families can go for a walk in the park and have their happiest day ever,’ Andy says. ‘Don’t compare yourself to other people, but to yourself: are you being the best version of you?’

9. Keep your cool

If you tend to save beach days and theme park trips for hot and sunny days, think again. Not only do attractions tend to be busier in hot weather, but we’re less happy, too. ‘The optimum temperature for happiness is only 14C, so going out and about in 30C heat is not conducive to having a good time,’ explains Andy. Use hot days for chilling out in the paddling pool, and plan outings for cloudier days instead.

10. Get outside

‘Happiness is linked to being outside, in nature, and getting fresh air,’ says Andy. Make an effort to prise your child away from their tablet or phone and spending some time in the great outdoors every day, even if you’re just playing in the garden.

11. Join in with their play

‘As we get older, we tend to forget how to have fun,’ Andy explains. ‘Don’t just sit there watching the kids or looking at your phone while they’re playing in the garden or the park; think like a five-year-old and join in.’ You can’t underestimate how pleased your child will be if you jump on the trampoline with them, and you might be surprised by how much fun you have, too.

12. Be a role model

Yes, it’s obvious, but many of us still forget that children take their cues from adults, and that our mood influences theirs. ‘There’s a saying that you’re only as happy as your least happy child, and if one person in the family is miserable, it’ll drag everyone else down,’ says Andy. ‘If you’ve got a smile on your face, that’ll infect your children, and everyone will be happier overall.’