For your children, winter break is greeted with wide eyes and open arms.

For you, feelings may be a little more mixed. The holidays interrupt the careful rhythm you’ve been keeping since September and structure can be difficult to make at home. Factor in uncooperative weather, visits from extended family or travel plans, and the balance tips further. Whatever you’re doing for the holidays, here are five rules to make good with the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s.

  1. Give the kids a head’s up about the nonnegotiable plans. Your kids have been looking forward to free time and intend to use it well. Before they make (or propose) plans of their own, make sure they know when they’ll be at Grandma’s house or out of town. You’ll avoid dashed hopes and long negotiations.
  2. As much as possible, keep schedules consistent. Winter break will end in about a week. With a turnaround that quick, it’s best to avoid drastic changes in routine. Waking up for school at 6 a.m. will be a lot harder if your child has gotten used to sleeping until 10:30. Loosen up the boundaries a bit, but keep sleep and wake times within a half hour of what they normally are: it will make each end of the transition easier.
  3. Make a homework plan. No one wants to think about homework at the height of the holiday season, but you can help your kids make the dreaded task more bearable. Sit down with them at the beginning of winter break to outline a homework schedule. Help your child devote a small portion of each day to homework, with (realistic) consideration of each assignment. For example, prompt your kids to think about how much time they’ll need for each assignment, which they may need help with, and which are due earliest. In doing so, you’ll teach them how to budget their time, think ahead and make room for family and fun.
  4. Give breaks. Some kids love all eyes on them; some prefer their iPad to human contact. Wherever your child falls on this spectrum, they will need a break from anything that places heavy demands on their attention. As the young brain develops, so does its capacity for executive functioning. Staying focused, getting organized and being patient are all skills your child is still working on. Make room for the things your kids enjoy and let them indulge in-between the longer tasks. Whether it’s a 10 minute window to play on the iPad, or permission to be excused from the party for a moment.
  5. Plan at least one thing that everyone will genuinely enjoy. Of course, you’re not going to love every kitsch or kiddy thing your children want to do, but find something you will. Maybe the whole family loves a good movie, or really excels at ice skating. Whatever it is, find one thing that gets the whole band onboard. If there’s nothing you can all agree on, take turns letting each family member pick an activity they like.


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