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AS YOUNGSTERS look forward to the half term break next week, it can be a difficult time for parents - particularly when they are bringing up children alone.

Complicated childcare arrangements, financial pressures and trying to keep bored children occupied are issues faced by all parents, but for lone parents they are often magnified. Disagreements about where the children will spend time can flare up, underlying the fact that family life has changed.

A quarter of British families are now headed by a single parent, with 1.8 million mothers and fathers raising their children single-handedly. Parentline Plus, the biggest independent provider of parent support in the county, hears from thousands of lone parents each year and has now put together the following tips, for parents by parents, to help take the pressure off the school holidays. Make a list of all the school holiday dates and how much childcare is needed so your ex and extended family can understand the situation, especially if you work.

If plans need to be changed remember to consult your ex, especially before booking anything. If both parties make an effort to be considerate it will make a big difference to the children. Don't use contact or time together as a bargaining ploy. You may no longer be partners but you are forever parents, and your children need you to co-parent even if you no longer live together. If you or your ex wants to take the children on holiday you may feel anxious, especially if the plan is to go abroad. Clear communication such as sharing information, itineraries, contact details and knowledge eg children's swimming ability or what sun factor they will need, will help put both parents at ease.

If you have negotiated a plan for the year or a period of time, add the dates to a calendar for your children. If children feel they have contributed to the plan or know where they will be at a particular time, they will hopefully feel more at ease during the transition stages from one home to the other. Involve older children in the decision-making whenever possible. You may need to try and work out ground rules with your ex over the bigger issues such as leaving older children unattended.

Look out for any changes in your child. Are they more moody or withdrawn than usual? If so it may be due to the changes. Find a quiet time and ask them how they are. Be prepared to review and change arrangements and to discuss these with your children as they grow older. Younger children may need frequent short visits, whereas teenagers may prefer to spend weekends with friends but have e-mail or phone contact and holidays with the non-resident parent. Spread days together out over the school holidays so both parents have a chance to spend quality time with children.

Where possible, it is good for children to have continuing contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles from both sides of their family. You may feel resentful and hurt about your child spending time with the other parent, particularly at first, but share those feelings with another adult, not the child. Children can pick up on feelings and can be torn between parents. When your children do go off with your ex, you may feel a mixture of emotions from loneliness to relief. You shouldn't feel guilty for feeling relieved when the children go off for the weekend - it's tough bringing up children alone. Single parents whose ex-partners have no involvement in the children's lives, could consider striking a deal with friends in the holidays where you take turns to look after each other's children.

If you are thinking about taking your children away on holiday on your own, there are holiday companies who specialise in this, so check these out.

For more information log on to of call 0808 800 2222.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 12, 2009
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