Committee for Children Blog

Three Strategies to Ensure a Successful Spring Break


Whether you are sticking around the house, traveling abroad, or playing tourist in your own town, there are bound to  be parenting challenges or tough moments that arise over the break. All the “together time” can be fun and create wonderful memories, but because dynamics tend to change when kids are out of their normal school routine, it also has the potential to create stress. Here are a few reminders to help you avoid and manage common challenges so you can enjoy the time together while contributing to your teen’s social and emotional development. It is important to first recognize these challenges as opportunities for connection and teaching, because without that mindset it is difficult to use discipline effectively.

Model Restraint with Screens

Screens!!! The over-consumption of screens and technology often fuels parent–teen conflicts. One way to avoid having your teen be completely devoured by their phone or device is to model and practice self-control and restraint. Your child isn’t going to do what you say; they are going to do what you do. Adults tend to have limited self-control when using media and devices. You can be a model of self-control by creating and enforcing limits on your own use of devices. There are apps that can do this for you, or you can simply remove email or Facebook from your cellphone to limit the impulse to check them unnecessarily. The goal is ultimately to check your devices intentionally and not impulsively.

Share Control and Offer Choices

Hopefully your spring break plans include activities that you enjoy. This may mean that your children aren’t thrilled or enthusiastic participants. (Hiking is one of these activities, which my husband and I enjoy, but our kids seem to dread.) So if your child is not eager, offer them some limited choices. We all want choices in life. Your kids are no different. In the life of a teen (and toddler), control becomes important. This is because they are separating from their parents. Once you could have said, “Hey, we are going on a fun hike today!” and they would go along happily; now you cannot gain their cooperation quite as easily.

If you think of it as control, it all makes sense. You don’t care which route you take, who is leading, or what word game you play along the way. You just want them to join in on a family hike! To stave off conflicts, it is helpful to offer limited choices throughout the day so your kids have some control over their lives. Offer choices over things you don’t care about. Offer choices before making a request or telling them what to do.

Instead of “Go get ready—we are going on a hike,” try “Do you want to go on the hike before breakfast or after breakfast?” Choices can also help you get out of a frustrating situation. When your kids are already in a fit, sometimes offering choices, after empathizing or reflecting their emotion first, will help move them on to the next step.

There are many choices in every situation. To increase the effectiveness of choices:

•  It is important to offer only two choices that work for you
•  If they don’t pick, or they want a third option, you simply choose for them—“No problem, I’ll decide.” Follow through on that choice
• To stay out of a power struggle, offer the child an opportunity to make a choice on something else
•  Keep your tone and attitude calm and relaxed as if this is no big deal for you; you are fine either way they decide

Problem-Solve Together—Be an Emotion Coach

Sometimes we just cannot avoid problematic behaviors or expressions of emotion (a/k/a meltdowns). To help children manage big emotions and make better choices, it can be useful to problem-solve or use an “emotion coaching” approach. Research has shown that children with emotion-coaching parents recover from stressful situations faster, have fewer negative emotions, and develop the skills needed to manage challenges on their own. In order to be an emotion-coaching parent you must empathize, help your child to get clear about what they actually want or need, and acknowledge their feelings and needs while setting limits on behavior. Guide them through a brainstorming and problem-solving process.

Dr. John Gottman suggests using the five steps of emotion coaching as a framework for problem solving:

1.  Simply recognize lower-intensity emotions before they escalate. Don’t wait to intervene until your child has gone off the deep end.
2.  Recognize this moment as a time to connect with your child and for teaching. This requires that you shift the lens in which you view these behaviors and begin to think about emotional moments or misbehaviors as “opportunities” to draw closer to your child.
3.  Listen empathically and validate your child’s feelings. Encourage your child to share what he is feeling. (“Tell me what happened; tell me what you’re feeling…”) Then reflect your child’s feeling back to her by saying, “It sounds like you’re feeling ______.” It’s important that you don’t dismiss emotions as silly or unimportant.
4.  Help your child label emotions. It is important that you help your child label their own feelings instead of telling them how they ought to feel. Listen in a way that helps your child know that you are paying attention and taking them seriously.
5.  Set limits while problem solving. Set the limit on the behavior or choice while acknowledging the emotions. (This sounds like, “It’s okay to feel/want _____, but it’s not okay to do ______.”) Once the limit is set, ask your child what they wanted or needed. Then ask them to brainstorm a few different ideas on how to get what they want. Help them evaluate those ideas based on your family’s values, and then let them choose what they will do to either make a repair, try again, or try next time.

With these strategies, you will be well prepared to enjoy this time with your children. You are not raising robots, so expect that there will be stressful moments and be confident in knowing you have strategies to handle these moments. So go make some memories this spring break and have fun doing it!