School is out for some and coming to an end for others. The break is just beginning and I am already hearing parents stressing as they anticipate the summer months when their children are out of school. For some families, it is a hardship because both parents work and finding appropriate and affordable child care can be difficult, and competitive as camps fill up quickly. Even if one parent is able to stay home with, it can be a challenge to keep kids engaged, entertained and enriched. There is also the situation of what to do with older kids, those who are too old to go to daycare or camps, but maybe not ready to spend the summer alone at home.
I encourage parents to take a moment to pause, breath deeply and be in the moment. Remember this time with your children is relatively brief, and provides a good opportunity for connection with them, relationship building and much needed rest for everyone. Plan a few activities that will allow the entire family to have fun and to enjoy each other. Allow for down time as well. It is important to avoid over scheduling. It is actually good for kids to have time to be bored. This gives them the opportunity to be creative, to learn through play, to process their own thoughts and emotions and to slow down before they go back to school.
Another thing to keep in mind is when kids are home from school for extended amounts of time they are out of their routines, have large amounts of unstructured time and may have a huge reduction in their level of social interaction. This can lead to mischief making; contribute to a lapse of good habits and chores; cause changes in sleep patterns; and lead to the development of negative emotions especially when it is time to return to school in the fall.
Here are some helpful ideas for making the most of the summer, while maintaining a good overall sense of health and well being over the summer months:
* Keep kids’ routines of going to bed and waking at a certain time.
* Require kids to be dressed and finish morning chores by a certain time and before any screen time takes place
* Limit screen time. Excessive amounts of time in front of the t.v., video games and computer can be unhealthy in different ways, limits healthy interactions with others and keeps them from engaging in other creative and fun activities.
* Avoid an overly relaxed schedule. Throwing structure by the way side during breaks seems like fun and a good idea, but it can lead to fatigue, mood and behavior changes, and difficulty re-establishing routines when school starts again. Kids usually benefit from having a schedule, and clear guidelines. This creates a sense of safety because they know what is expected of them, and what to expect from their day.
* Help kids develop a plan for each day the night before to give them a sense of empowerment over their experiences, increase their ability to plan ahead and to help them to create their own sense of structure
* Encourage and support your children in developing interests and hobbies they enjoy and can become good at to alleviate boredom, build self esteem, enable them to meet other kids who share the same interests and to reduce negative emotions
* Encourage your kids to spend quality time with positive friends to help them maintain supportive relationships, increase positive emotions, and build self esteem. If they are old enough, you can encourage them to plan and organize their own play dates and hang outs to foster independence.
* If your children are bored it’s okay to challenge them to use their creativity to find a safe activity to occupy themselves. You don’t have to be a personal entertainment center.
Don’t forget to put yourself on the list. As important as it is to take care of your children, it is also important to take care of yourself. Make sure you:
* Are getting enough sleep, exercise and healthful food
* Take a break from your children as needed
* Spend time pursuing your own interests
* Connect with friends
* Have fun with your kids
Try to plan at least one fun activity with the entire family each week. You don’t have to go to an amusement park or spend a lot of money to connect with each other. Playing board games, hiking, building things, and making crafts are a few ideas, which may be appealing. It’s a good idea to take turns deciding what that activity will be to help everyone to feel included, and excited about family time.
Lastly, it is always a great idea to seek additional support for yourself and your loved ones in times of stress. Support can come in the form of family, friends, your community and neighbors, as well as from therapeutic professionals like myself.
Enjoy your summer. Live well, and savor the life you are creating.
Christy A. George, LMFT Counseling and Consulting
11858 Bernardo Plaza Court, Suite 210
San Diego, CA 92128