4 Tips for School Breaks That Won’t Break YOU!

Are your kids off from school this week? Mine are! Our elementary schoolers are off this whole week. We had parent-teacher conferences today, and then it’s “Camp Krispin” for the rest of the week!

Anytime our kids are out of routine, we can expect the usual Big Feelings to get even bigger. I find that too much “together time” lends itself to increased sibling strife. Whining, attention-seeking behaviors, and general neediness increases with each passing day, and for good reason: kids thrive in structure and predictability. While “going with the flow” might work for you, I can almost guarantee you that it does not work for your kids.

Over the years, I’ve learned what I need to do ahead of time to ensure that school breaks don’t break me. There are four things that I start thinking about and planning the week beforehand to foster a flourishing family environment and help my kids (and me!) have a great break.

#1: I’ll say it again: KIDS THRIVE IN STRUCTURE AND PREDICTABILITY.

Having a Vacation Routine is paramount! Keep routines as normal as possible during breaks. If your kids have a morning routine on school days (and they absolutely should!), keep it as consistent as possible. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, and having some place to be are very helpful in maintaining a sense of structure and consistency.

In our house, routines are a big part of our lives. Thanks to Positive Parenting Solutions, I’ve learned how essential Morning and Bedtime Routines are, and we maintain ours whether or not school is in session.

As for our Vacation Routine, the day always has the following components: meals at normal times, the kids have to be dressed before breakfast, there is some kind of outdoor activity, there is some sort of indoor creative activity (often it’s painting or some other art/craft), there is some sort of afternoon snack, and there is a movie.

I recommend actually writing the plan for the day down and posting it for your kids! If you don’t do that, at the very least, tell them what to expect for the day, with the understanding that things might shift a bit. We emphasize that this is “THE PLAN” for the day, not “THE PROMISE.” The plan might change, but here’s what we’re aiming for. I promise you, it makes a huge difference when the kids know ahead of time what’s coming at them.

Which brings me to…

#2. HAVE SOME PLACE TO GO EVERY DAY.

I know it sounds like a lot of work. I love the idea of lounging in my pajamas all morning, sipping coffee and listening to podcasts. But that doesn’t work for my kids. When we do that, they begin to ramp up and then spiral down into super unpleasantness. Have some place to go by 10:00 AM every day. A playground, the zoo, a walk in the neighborhood, a movie, a museum, a hike, whatever — it doesn’t have to cost anything and it doesn’t have to be fancy or far from home. For us, a picnic and playground are part of our normal routine. It gets the kids up, out, and moving, which is so good for all of us!

#3: PLAN ACTIVITIES.

Sometimes my kids can “just go play.” But often, they can’t. I find that it is very helpful to have activities planned that will keep them creatively engaged throughout the day. Usually, I can dip in and out of the room when they are doing these things—I have to get them started and often have to pop in to help out, but these are things I can also be doing other things (cooking, cleaning, editing, etc.) simultaneously. Some of the activities I have planned for this week include:

  • Painting (I got these easels and these canvases from Amazon and will have a Painting Party at some point this week. Bonus is that these paintings will then become Christmas gifts for grandparents!)
  • Collage-making (I’ve been saving National Geographic Kids, Sunset, and other magazines for them to cut and paste. Bonus: this is great for our kids who need extra OT help with fine motor skills—woot!)
  • Sculpting. This one’s messy, so gird up your loins. But I bought clay like this at Michaels and the kids LOVE making things with it. Once it dries you can easily vacuum up the pieces.
  • Indoor Hide and Seek. This is what I bust out when everyone starts to really grate on each other’s nerves. When the bickering starts to peak, I launch a game of hide and seek. It is a sure-fire winner every time.
  • Board Games. Uno (OK, I know that’s a card game), Race for the Treasure, Outfoxed, Sequence for Kids, Settlers of Catan, and BINGO are some of our favorites.
  • LEGOs. I’ve become savvy to the fact that I can’t say, “Go play with LEGOs” and expect results. However, if I set up a LEGO party on the dining room table, with bins easily accessible and front and center, two of my kids will sit and build for at least an hour or more. I have most of our household’s LEGOs in plastic drawers on wheels. I can easily wheel them out and then wheel them back into the boys’ bedroom (where they live most of the time) when they’re finished.
  • Playdates! I find it really helpful to plan to meet up with other kids or even to host an additional child for a few hours to break up the monotony of siblings being together 24/7.

For the record, sometimes I plan all these things, and the kids start playing something totally independently (Spy Academy, Zombie Apocalypse, School, and Family are their favorite made-up games). But it is absolutely essential for me to have a plan in case they are struggling to play well together. Again, being off routine and having too much together time are often a recipe for our kids to struggle.

In fact, I can predict that around 3:00 each day, my kids will start to struggle. (They don’t call it “The Witching Hour” for nothing!) They will be getting tired, they will have been together all day, and they will be grating on one another’s last nerve. That’s when I have the most structured activity, like painting, or give them a movie while I make dinner.

And last but not least is…

#4 SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.

If you have more than one child, it’s going get loud! It’s going to get crazy! Everyone is going to need to practice their deep breathing and mindfulness and trips to the Calming Corner—ESPECIALLY US PARENTS! This is when it is more important than ever that we set our intentions for the day and take time to pray and welcome help from on high. Our ability to model patience and restraint when the volume is turned up and the tantrums are turned on will play a huge part in how the kids handle their dysregulated moments. Being proactive with structure and anticipating (and planning for) the harder parts of the day will make all the difference.

This is how I handle school breaks and vacation days. How about you? What helps your family flourish when you’re off your usual routine?

Top Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash. Bottom Photo from my Instagram Feed.

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Foster Parenting Babies with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome)

If you’ve been thinking of joining The Flourishing Foster Parent, this week would be a great time to join for two reasons.

First, the next FFP Coaching Call is Saturday at 9:00 AM (PST), and the topic we’ll cover is relevant for so many foster parents. I’m excited to offer this coaching call, not because of the topic (it’s a pretty devastating one), but because of the fact that I know it will help so many of you feel more prepared and equipped.

I’ve invited pediatric nurse and Premier Baby Planners co-founder Monica Simmons to be our guest, as we discuss all things NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome).

The sad fact is, if you foster babies, chances are you will at some point have a baby with NAS. With the rise in heroin addiction especially, babies are coming into care with challenges related to having been exposed to illicit substances in utero.

It’s important for foster parents to be informed about how best to care for a baby experiencing the after-effects of in-utero exposure and withdrawal, and to help get services in place early to address potential cognitive and developmental delays.

And all substances are not alike! We’ll talk about various substances and how they can affect a baby’s brain, both in the short-term and long-term.

This call is for members of FFP only, and there are currently 14 more spaces available. I know it will be beneficial! Members of FFP, look for your call-in invitation via this week!

The second reason this is a great week to join FFP is that we are just eleven days away from the end of your chance to win a free copy of one of my favorite books for foster and adoptive parents, “Wounded Children, Healing Homes.” Everyone who is a current member of The Flourishing Foster Parent on November 30 will be entered in a drawing to win one of four copies of this wonderful book.

The Flourishing Foster Parent is an online support and resource community for current and in-process foster parents. We hold weekly Coaching Calls, which are live calls on Google Meet, where we often hear from experts in fields related to foster care and/or experienced foster parents. Some weeks, we just share with one another the trials and triumphs of our experiences as foster parents. Recordings of most of the calls are available to members of the community as long as they are current members.

Membership is month-by-month, and you can cancel your involvement at any time. The cost is $20/month to have access to the live calls and the exclusive resource library of previous calls and other content.

From “The Isolated Foster Parent” to “The Flourishing Foster Parent”

When I first began my journey of foster parenting, I had a great mom and lots of “mom friends” and people who were in the throes of parenting I could turn to for advice. But I didn’t have many friends who understood the unique and specific challenges of being a foster parent. I had friends I could turn to with questions about what my baby should wear at night (this was when the phrase “sleep sack” was added to my vocabulary), but I didn’t know who to ask about how to interact with my kids’ mom, or how to discern whether the therapist we were assigned to was a good fit. Supportive and empathetic members of our community could tell me when my son’s bike helmet was on backwards (thanks, Jill!) and could enlighten me about the benefits of “Sophie la Girafe” for the baby, but they were at a loss when it came to how to respond to the violent tantrums we faced when our boy was triggered.

For over a year, I felt pretty alone in my world of foster parenting. That’s how long it took me to find a support group I liked, where I connected with others who “got it” and heard from people who really understood what I was going through. I learned about the Refresh Conference and began to connect in a truly meaningful way with other foster (and foster-adoptive) parents.

Those connections proved to be the lifeline I needed.

As I connected with other, more experienced, foster parents, therapists, and specialists who understand the world of childhood trauma, neglect, and in-utero drug exposure, I began to feel empowered for the first time. I began to learn about trauma-informed parenting. I gained tools and knowledge and insight that actually made a difference in our home. I learned about attachment, and I learned practical ways to construct our day-to-day life, deal with significant behavioral challenges, handle school stress, and manage our household in a way that was not just survivable, but truly sustainable. I also learned about what foster care felt like for a mother whose kids were in the system. I began to see how cyclical and systemic “the system” can be, and I began to care not just for the kids who came into my home, but for their parents and families as well.

Our family went from surviving to truly flourishing.

Foster parenting can be extremely isolating.

I remember showing up one the playground at our neighborhood elementary school, trying to mingle with the other moms. I had only met my children two weeks earlier, yet there I was, trying to fit in with these women who had actually known their kids their whole life (imagine that!)

I didn’t. I did not fit in. And as my child’s challenging behaviors grew more and more evident, my sense of isolation on the playground and at church and everywhere else we went grew too.

But when I connected with others and began to see how “normal” my experience was within the world of foster parenting, and how there were actually strategies that might work, and how there was a whole community of people who could offer meaningful feedback and insight and advice, I discovered that I was not alone.

I found out that there was a place where I did fit in.

I started The Flourishing Foster Parent earlier this year in order to offer others on the foster parenting journey something of the community and connection I so desperately needed when I first started out. The FFP offers opportunities for real-time connection with other foster parents (or those preparing to become foster parents) by way of weekly “Coaching Calls.” The FFP also offers opportunities to learn and gain tools through hearing from special guests periodically, including trauma-informed therapists, experienced foster parents, former foster youth, and more.

The FFP community is small, but it’s been very meaningful for those who are involved. Here’s what a few people have written to me recently:

“I love this group because I love the opportunity to be myself and share the really real things without judgement or shame. Being a foster parent isn’t easy and there are not a lot of people who truly understand our struggles, so having this diverse group of people that are invested in learning and growing and sharing the journey is so important. “

and

“I love this group and all of the Fostered Life YouTube videos. It helps so much to know we’re not alone.”

and

” I appreciate this group because we are all walking in similar shoes.”

and

“I’m glad I’ve been able to listen to your podcasts. I know no one can ever be 100% prepared but we are much more so since joining the group.”

I’m not sharing these quotes to toot my own horn. I’m sharing them to show that I am not alone in my need for connection with others who “get it.”

If you are a foster parent (or in the process of becoming a foster parent), and you would like to be part of a community like this, I’d love to invite you to join The Flourishing Foster Parent. The cost is $20/month, you get access to online resources (mostly audio recordings) and an invitation to a weekly live call. There is no commitment once you’ve joined. You may bow out any time if you find it is not what you’re looking for.

Foster parenting is the best—and hardest—thing I have ever done. But knowing I’m not doing it alone has made all the difference in the world to me. If you could use some friends who get it, join us!

There are currently fourteen spots left in the group. If you join by November 30, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win one of four copies of one of my favorite books for foster and adoptive parents: “Wounded Children, Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families (Jayne Schooler et al).”