Holiday happiness doesn’t depend on the hotel amenities, the rental car or the weather. It depends on your children’s ability to play together.
This can be particularly hard when Self-proclaimed Football Star is stuck with his piano-playing brother for a fortnight.
So how to minimise squabbling during some easy summer football, rounders or - if you have a frisbee - ultimate? With a net at hand you might extend the repertoire to some half-hearted badminton or beach volleyball. Another back garden staple of ours is a mock game of squash with two kids, two rackets, one tennis ball and one wall.
The simplest way to minimise frustrations is a handicap system. The kid who takes sports far too seriously needs 10 points while his (better adjusted?) sister only needs 5. The competitive kid will like the high expectations which have been signalled. He will often lose with good grace because superiority was implied from the start!
Secondly you can break things up by throwing in individual challenges within the same activity. So half an hour of football, however social, might be too much for the youngest or for the half-engaged. Break it up with the sort of penalty shoot-out competition you see on TV (joy, oh, joy for the Self-Proclaimed Star). You can move the kick-off spot further or nearer the target depending on age or size. Or the best footballer might stay in goals for the whole session. He might enjoy that if he's given some quick Youtube lessons on goal-keeping beforehand - again he has been "selected" and he has something to strive for. Equivalent adjustments for rounders include making the teams big kids v small kids and increasing the space between the bases depending on who’s fielding. If it’s wiser to keep the teams mixed, then you can add a couple of “dens” – extra bases only to be used by the youngest. And older kids should bat with a proper bat while their younger siblings can use a tennis racket.
Thirdly – recognise the patience which the older – or more skilful – children are displaying. Maybe they should be handed a whistle and be allowed to referee? Maybe they should organise a warm-up or a little coaching session? If they are part of a club or a team they will know dozens of training techniques which you have forgotten since your school days. Ask them to plan the activities for the picnic outing and they’ll feel a sense of ownership.
This should compensate for the risk of being spotted by your peers as you play tennis with someone who still sucks his thumb.