Festivals are a time of excitement, joy and wonderment. The inspiring experiences and new interactions they provide can broaden your child’s horizons.
It is also a time when children can feel overstimulated, tired and out of their comfort zones and usual routines. I would like to share some ideas to help you support your child to make the most of this experience as they learn to safely stretch their boundaries. Whilst this article was written for under 5’s, the principles can be applied to all ages.
SCHEDULE SOME SLOW DAYS
Preparing for a festival is a big job, involving a lot of lists, shopping and packing – and during the festival, the days are excitingly full and sometimes long. Scheduling in some slow days, ideally one before and a couple after, makes a big difference.
We have a weekly diary that goes on the fridge, with pictures on it (I’m no Picasso – imagine a tree for Forest School, a stick man for a play-date etc). Every week, I draw a snail for at least one of the days, which we call Snail Days: we are in our shells and we are slow. My son even asks for these days sometimes and I love them too. Staying in PJ’s, snuggling up on the sofa with a pile of books, lighting a fire, and long bubble baths – these days allow for lots of connection time.
Here is a suggested action that you can do right now. Look at your diary and put in a Snail Day, preferably before and after the festival. Treat this with the same level of priority you would a doctor’s appointment. I know that before a festival this can be a challenge but even a few hours will support you both in being calm and grounded. After the festival, you will probably be glad of the time to land and catch up on laundry. This quiet time also gives your child space to process and express any emotions or experiences from the festival.
BALANCE STIMULATING TIME WITH QUIET TIME
Festivals provide an abundance of wonderful new activities to experience and sights to see. It’s also good to balance this with moments of quiet connecting time.
Whenever we are at a festival, we build in quiet time every afternoon. We go to our tent on our own, snuggle with a familiar book, we have a cuddle or even a nap. You could also incorporate a mindfulness of breathing practice into this: simply some deep breaths and a body scan to look for areas of tension. With younger ones, you can blow out a candle and sniff a flower for the out and in breath. Remember though, that your child will have their own way of grounding themselves and this practice needs to be held loosely with a focus on re-connecting and slowing down rather than on the technique itself.
LOOK OUT FOR THE SIGNALS
Children are resilient and have their own inbuilt ways of dealing with new experiences. It’s up to us to gently support them to do this. Look out for the signals that your child might need some down time: perhaps they’re showing off track behaviour, getting upset regularly, or becoming a bit aggressive. If you are with your partner or friends, ask them to help you look out for these signals too.
A brief word here about “tantrums” as it is a big topic, but in summary – welcome them! This may seem counter-intuitive but I firmly believe they are positive emotional releases; your child’s built in reset button. Think about it – people pay therapists thousands to have a good cry, right? It’s really common for younger children to need this big release during a festival, which is so full of new experiences. Your role is to stop, listen, be close and say very little. I like to just get down to my son’s level, maintain eye contact and stroke his back. Every couple of minutes, I may say one empathic sentence: “I see you’re really upset, I’m here, I love you”. This can take time and the challenge for you is to pause your internal dialogue, breathe and be patient until the release is finished. It’s an investment of time but I assure you, you will have a happier child afterwards.
SUPPORT WITH CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
In communications with your child, being honest and clear about expectations and changes in routine is always helpful.
Picture books are a great visual tool for showing the diary of events. This can be as simple as an A4 sheet of paper divided into sections for days, with pictures of a bed, a car, a rucksack, and your home. You can read through it like a book the day before you go away – “We’re going to sleep in our bed tonight, then when we wake up we’re going to pack and drive to the festival.” When you’re away, “Tomorrow we are going to be at the festival, and the day after we’re going to pack, drive home and sleep in our own bed again.”
One client read a picture book to her 3-year-old the night before they were due to go on holiday. When they got to the part about leaving home, her daughter sobbed uncontrollably for over an hour, begging her not to go on the holiday. She was having a huge emotional release about the fear of being away. The next morning, she woke up totally excited and ready to go. Had she not had the book, the feelings would still have been there, but as they may not have had a chance to be released, they might have come out in other ways, such as off-track behaviour.
ROUTINE AND TRANSITIONS
While festivals are a lot of fun, they also involve changes in routine and a lot of transitions, which can be challenging for children. So it’s a good idea to allow ample time in your schedule to support any feelings that may arise, by having time to listen.
During your preparations, it’s helpful to get your child involved in packing familiar items: they can pack their favourite teddy and books, their toothbrush and pyjamas, etc. Having these familiar things around will help them feel safer.
If you have a partner, one of you could play with your child, giving them some focused 1-1 time, while the other is loading the car. If you are a single parent, you could have a friend or neighbour come play with your child while you prepare or pack the car.
Be realistic about arrivals. If you have had hours in the car, your child will need to run around freely. It may be possible to stop off at a park en-route.
Try to provide a balance to the change in routine by maintaining your normal activities and rhythm on the mornings or evenings where possible. For example, it may be possible to replicate bedtime routine: we go back to our tent, have dinner, wash, put on pyjamas, read bedtime stories, but instead of going to bed my son gets into our festival wagon. This familiarity is very comforting and reassuring.
POSITIVE RESILIENCE AND THE MAGIC OF FESTIVALS
Overall, the festival experience enables children to grow positive resilience through pushing the edges of their comfort zones (with our support for their emotional process). Children can also grow in other ways such as developing confidence, expanding their social skills and finding new interests.