The Balancing Act: ‘How Do I Use My 5‑Year‑Old’s Holiday Time?’


Apr 22, 2016


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Summer Scheduler: Summer holidays are beginning, and I’m worried. What summer activities for kids will utilize my 5-year-old’s time and energy?

Sonali: To begin with, let me tell you most parents share a similar sentiment. Children can be quite a handful over the long stretch of holidays. Many parents pride themselves in making the most of children’s holidays by packing in all manner of summer activities for kids: camps, hobby classes, playdates and more. But research shows this schedule can create anxiety in kids and leave them with very little time for what is most beneficial: unstructured play.

  Read more about the benefits of unstructured play/free time on The Swaddle.

This summer, give your daughter the gift of unstructured play and allow her to explore. This doesn’t mean leaving her alone or unsupervised, it just means letting her choose how and what she wants to play with. “Play is the work of childhood,” says Jean Piaget, a pioneer in child development. A child’s ability to imagine, create and explore is born from time to understand, choose and discover their own environment. She will learn to rely on herself, to enjoy her own company and discover her own potential.

I understand there might be peer pressure from other parents enrolling children in a full schedule of structured summer activities for kids; I also understand these structured activities may be helpful when both parents work full time. So I’d suggest creating across a week a good balance of free time for pretend play and exploring, physical activity (kids need at least 60 minutes each day of running-around play), and a structured activity such as reading, an art project, or a short hobby class around an activity or topic your child chooses.

Ultimately, children learn best while playing undirected; there is nothing more beautiful – and educational – than the freedom to be their own carefree, spontaneous selves.

Chilly Feet: I’m going to get remarried this December. My previous marriage lasted 5 years and ended because my husband and I couldn’t communicate or resolve our conflicts. I’m scared the same problem may recur in my next marriage.

Sonali: Marriage is a huge positive milestone and transition, but it is normal for people to feel anxious or overwhelmed, particularly if it is reminiscent of a past experience. I would suggest seeking individual counselling. It could help you with two things: First, it can help you address any past baggage or leftover emotions from your previous relationship. And second, it can help you keep any such baggage from shaping your expectations, feelings or behaviour toward your current partner.

It would also be a good idea to seek pre-marital counselling, as it could help you and your partner address tricky concerns or fears, improve your communication skills as a couple, identify damaging patterns of conflict communication, and clarify a shared meaning system that brings you closer.

Pre-marital counselling could also help you prioritise kindness and compassion as the basis of your relationship (easier in theory than in practice). As marriage expert Dr John Gottman says, “Many people believe that a low level or no conflict is the mark of a good marriage. …In fact, it is the process of working through conflict that we grow and strengthen the understanding of each other.”

At the very least, I’d suggest you look through some of these books on strengthening the marital bond.


Written By Sonali Gupta

Sonali Gupta is a practicing clinical psychologist with 10 years of experience. She conducts workshops to enhance the emotional well-being of couples, parents and children. She can be reached at sonaligupta297@gmail.com. You can find more of Sonali’s thoughts on Twitter (@guptasonali) and on her website, guptasonali.com


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