I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to maintain structure while the kids are off school. I get it. If you were tight for breathing room before break, you’re now feeling like you’re holding your breath. Not fun.

Many of us, including myself, are incredibly uncomfortable with downtime. We say we want it, but when it comes, we feel overwhelmed by the expansiveness and potential chaos of it all. A little shift in our day we can deal with, but an empty calendar feels akin to what I imagine a budding artist might feel looking at a blank canvas.

Let me rephrase that. I’m thinking an artist might sense amazing possibility at the site of that blank canvas. The way I feel about the upcoming time off with my boys. But stick me in front of a plain white sheet of anything and my anxiety soars!

And I’m thinking you might be feeling the same about this holiday break.

Here are 8 simple steps to help you enjoy this break with your kids:

1. Make a mindset shift.
As I see it, all we need to do is shift our mindset a bit, and it becomes quite easy to create a fun, peaceful time together.
Instead of: “Oh, shit! I’m stuck home with the kids for two weeks! (at least) It’s going to be so hard!”
Try: “A whole two weeks without rushing and deadlines and expectations! That opens up so much possibility!”
From this place, we’ve got the energy flow we need to create whatever we can dream up!

2. Let as much structure go as you can. It’s really nice to not have to get places by certain times for a change!
Consider taking a break from regular appointments and commitments. Consider unplugging!

3. Take a moment to think about the feelings you’d like to fall asleep to at the end of each day.
Maybe it’s light or joy or relaxed or loving or connected…. Identifying these feelings will create an energetic space for them to come to be.
You might write the words on your mirror or fridge or whiteboard or in your journal.

4. Sit down for three minutes and think about what you need to make sure YOU get each day in order to have the fuel to parent with love and patience, and get that set up first.
You can free write, talk with a friend, or just think to yourself.
It might be a hike, connection with a friend, or a shower! Whatever it is, it’s important!

5. Make a minimal list of what the kids “absolutely must” do each day, and another list of experiences you’d like them to have over the break, and yet another with any projects you’d like to do.
Maybe it’s important to you that they get in a half hour of reading each day, and an hour of being outside. Keep it simple.
Remember that what reading looks like can vary. A read-aloud at the library. Listening together to an audio book. Everyone on the couch reading their separate books. And there are many options for outside too (if you’re not snowed in)!
For the experiences list, perhaps there’s something at the children’s museum you want to be sure they see, or a neighborhood with awesome Christmas lights you want to drive them through. This is a short list of things that you’d be bummed if you all missed out on.
And for projects, maybe you want to clean out the pantry or paint a room. Make a list.

6. Ask the kids what they’d like to do over break.
Let them dream and brainstorm, and you just take notes. You can let them know you want to make sure they get to do some of what they really want. This step is important, and one we often skip over. Don’t.

7. Make a colorful calendar of options.
Sketch out a simple grid on a piece of printer paper, write the dates on it, and fill it in with YOUR DAILY NEED and your daily need for your kids. Then sprinkle in the experiences you want them to have and some of the ones they asked for. Do the same for the projects you want to do.
You could decide that mornings you’re going to lounge around and make sure the reading gets done and you get your shower, but by 1pm you all head out of the house. Or you could decide that mornings you’re out and about, and then have a rest hour for reading and the afternoon to hang around the house for unstructured play. Or you can be more laid back and make each day different, or just list the day’s activities and let them fall where they may. Make it work for you!
Whatever you do, it’s nice to decorate your calendar with your kids. It makes it pretty, but it also makes it feel like it belongs to everyone. Which it does. 🙂

8. Avoid over scheduling.
Otherwise you’re essentially back to the school-time stresses, just for different commitments. If you’ve packed your days, start crossing things out and move them over to an “If there’s time list.”
Remember that flexibility is one of the most amazing qualities we can teach our kids. How to roll with life. And modeling relaxed thinking about something that at first feels overwhelming is one great way to do just that!
Wishing you all a wonderfully connected break with your kids!
And please share how you made this work for you in the comments below.