This week you might all be looking forward to half term and a few of you may have a ski holiday booked. So what better than some advice from Elaine Halligan at The Parent Practice on ensuring everyone has a stress free break as possible.
Children love snow and they love being active. So a family skiing holiday is a guaranteed winner, surely?
Not always. Although a skiing holiday with children has great potential for physical fun and family bonding, it also has the potential for frustration and disappointment…. So are there ways we can keep everyone happy, as well as safe, on the slopes?
When we invest a little extra thought and planning ahead of time towards making skiing holidays fun for all, we will continue to reap the benefits in years to come.
Above all, parents need to accept that a skiing holiday WITH children is not the same as the skiing holidays we had before, without children. We need to have realistic expectations of what the holiday will entail, and be aware of the differing needs and aims of all the parties involved.
We may want to spend hours on the slopes, and hours sitting over lunch or at the bar in the evening, or relaxing in the sauna, but children, particularly young ones, still need to be fed, bathed and put to sleep. Although there may be options to pay someone else to do these tasks, children will certainly still be seeking our attention and approval.
And, whilst they are young, they require additional support to help with all the equipment, a foreign environment – different language, different food – and the unusual fatigue, and other physical effects of altitude – including dehydration, cold, chapped lips…..
It may be that we need to build in some flexibility into the schedule for the week. There is often great pressure to keep skiing at all costs – it’s a much looked forward to, and much saved up for holiday, which lasts for just 6 days a year. However, if our aim is for everyone to enjoy themselves, and want to come back for more next year, it can be a good idea to take half a day off from the slopes and play snowballs, or build snowmen, or go sledging, and have fun doing something else than skiing.
So, what skills can we use to maximize the chances of everyone coming home, safely, and happily wanting to return the following year?
We can Set Up For Success in many ways. Setting Up For Success starts with brainstorming by parents. Try to anticipate what areas might cause problems for your children, for example – the practical issues such as putting on ski-boots, taking a button or chair-lift, keeping a lift-pass or chapstick safe in a pocket, putting on sun-cream. There are other issues too that can cause problems – settling in at ski-school, coping with strange meals, and meal-times, physical tiredness and over-excitement…..
The second stage of SU4S is to involve the children in a Chat Through. Make it an interesting, hopeful and optimistic conversation – consider making it an official Family Skiing Meeting and preparing a special snack or meal afterwards……
Remember, to keep the focus on solutions. Raise the issues you have highlighted and ask the children for their opinions and any ideas they have about how to tackle them. When we seek the ideas of our children it boosts their self-esteem, and helps them see themselves as problem-solvers. And we can often benefit from our children’s creativity and ingenuity at coming up with strategies.
Use Role Plays to practice some skills in the areas selected. Learning is a physical process – listening to someone explain how to take a chair-lift is just the first level; watching someone take a chair-lift (there is some footage on You-Tube!) is the next level. And actually doing it is the final level. Somewhere just before that could be a mock-up situation involving some kitchen chairs and a broomstick!
You may also need to anticipate how children might feel taking lifts for the first time – they may well feel scared by the height and thoroughly chilled by the cold. Rather than brush away any fears or anxieties, we use Reflective Listening to allow them to express their emotions and concerns, before we move on to how these feelings can be dealt with.
For example: rather than try to reassure with “don’t worry about how high up you are, these lifts are perfectly safe” we would say “sometimes it’s scary to be up so high, how do you think you could keep yourself calm, where could you look instead of down below you?” or “sometimes it can be very cold on the lift if it’s windy, what do you think you could do to keep warm?”
You could also try getting out the ski-gear and decide with your children which pocket is for the lift-pass, which is for the chap-stick, which one is for the emergency mars-bar or smarties. How will they remember which item is where? Let them practice putting on gloves and still being able to open and close pockets!
At each stage of any Chat-Through, Role Play or Family Meeting, we can Descriptively Praise our children – for trying, for taking part, for having an idea, for patience and persevering, for working things out.
As the first morning dawns, we can continue to use Descriptive Praise to encourage and support our children. This might sound like:
“These boots are so fiddly, and I can see you are trying really hard to do up the buckle.” “You are being really brave and hardly complaining at all about the cold.”
” I know you’re not sure that skiing is really your thing but you’re trying to do the snow plough just the way your teacher showed you. I saw that you were really paying attention and looking at him while he was talking. Then you watched carefully while he showed you –and you had a go. I love that you’re willing to try –it shows a wonderfully positive attitude!”
“You helped your sister do up the zip on her pocket when she couldn’t manage it with gloves on. And this morning you helped her up when she fell over –you’re being a really kind brother.”
“When the instructor asked you to wait for the little ones to go first on the magic carpet you stepped back and waited. That was patient because I could see you really wanted to have another go –you were having such fun! You are getting good at following instructions and controlling your impulses.”
And as the day and week progresses, there will inevitably be times when we need to Reflectively Listen. We can empathise with a child’s reluctance to get up in the morning – or go to ski-school. We can empathise with their frustration and extreme tiredness or not being able to master a technique as quickly as they’d like.
This does not mean we are going to let them “get away” with any negative behaviour caused by these feelings, but RL is a more positive and bonding way to communicate with our children than criticising, and scolding. Sometimes, RL can release a child from their reluctance or resistance towards something, and enable to them to keep going, because they feel understood.
A final thought for skiing siblings. There is an inevitable competitiveness between siblings, particularly those of the same gender, and those who are close in age. It may be that one child is a stronger skier than another, and this can create jealousy and conflict. It is important that we keep our focus, and their focus, on the effort they put into their skiing, and the improvements they make, and their attitude towards it, rather than on the skill level they attain.
This means we Descriptively Praise them for these qualities, rather than concentrating on the level of run or which badges they win. This might sound like: “I love the way you pick yourself up and brush off the snow and just get straight back to trying your hardest” or “I can see those parallel turns getting closer and closer together each time you come down the slope, keeping working on them like this and soon they will get easier!”
Happy skiing and happy half term holidays!