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Girls smiling at the camera, happy to be on holidays and having the time to play
Published
07 February 2018

What did we all learn over the holidays?

​​As the school year begins we are all inundated by back-to-school sales, programs and press but no time goes towards reflecting on the holidays that were. And while many parents (myself included) breathe a sigh of relief when students return to school, it is important to savour what we’ve learned during the break.

For my family, Alice learned to walk, I learned to be patient with her walking (the former happened shortly after the latter), Jack started swimming properly and learned that saying ‘please’ only works if it is in the correct tone.

But we also observed how much our children grew in the holidays – both physically and emotionally. Jack grew about three centimetres in the space of two months. While I thought this was due to his diet of Bolognese and Vegemite sandwiches, it turns out it’s more about family time and a decrease in family stress. Last year Professor Timothy Olds discussed this phenomenon of children growing more during the school holidays because “There’s a change in diet, but also less stress.”

However, many of us notice that our children develop emotionally during the holidays and benefit from the increased focus from their parents. During school time we can end up spending only a couple of hours with our children each day, between the drop-off and pick-ups, dinner and bedtime. And that time is hardly ‘focused’. Two thirds of conversations between parents and children are about daily routine. (Around half of it involves the word ‘shoes’ in my family.) Professor Panksepp, a neuroscientist from Washington State University, found that two emotion systems are energised when families are more relaxed – the play and the seeking systems. By playing with your children, their brains produce morphine-like effects. Similarly, the seeking system can be exercised when adventuring. These two systems reduce stress and make us more relaxed. The more you can do this with your children, the more likely it is playing and seeking will become part of their personalities and your children will become more creative and independent.

Another thing that improves our wellbeing over the holidays is being outside, and we are incredibly lucky that in Australia the majority of holidays can be spent outside even during winter. Spending time outdoors for even 20 minutes has been shown to increase children’s attention and concentration levels. In fact studies have shown that the more time you spend with your children out of your normal routine, namely on a holiday (at home or away), the more you are triggering their frontal lobes and improving their ability to regulate stress, increase concentration, and their ability to learn.

So as we discovered at the end of the school holidays, Alice was talking a lot more, as well as walking; Jack was negotiating a lot more (a mixed blessing, it’s fair to say), swimming, and riding his bike. A small part of me started thinking they would develop like this constantly if one of us didn’t work (and the back to work mother guilt set in), but in fact, it is not about the quantity of time spent with children, but the quality.

It may seem a bit cruel to remind everyone of how important holidays are, now that they have ended, but by appreciating what we have all learned over the holiday break – whether it be through reading, watching, doing, or playing, we are more prepared for 2018, and can approach the year with more experience and optimism.

So even during term time, find a day in a weekend to go on a family adventure, have a day with no plans where you just play with your children, and continue to connect with family for everyone’s benefit. By removing yourselves from routines and having time to relax as a family, you and your children develop the ability to relax and even become smarter!

Mrs Daisy Turnbull Brown
Director of Positive Psychology
B Arts B Com Grad Dip Ed MA (Theology)

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