Isn’t summer a time for fun and relaxation? Why does it feel so stressful?!
Summer is a time that most of us look forward to with great anticipation, particularly those of us who experience winters that seem to stretch well into what we thought would be spring. Children are often eager for the school year to end by the time we hit May. Parents and caregivers may also look forward to a break from school demands and homework.
We finally make it to summer and, like clockwork, pandemonium seems to break loose in terms of our children’s behavior. What’s going on? Could it be the changes in routine, structure, activities, expectations, sleep habits, screen habits, etc. that tend to accompany summer break? Yes to all of the above! Changes, including those that seem pleasant, can be stressful, which on top of the looser structure and expectations of summer can lead to challenging circumstances for our otherwise (mostly) delightful children.
What can parents and caregivers do to support children and, in turn, maintain our own sanity over summer break?
It can be very helpful to add structure and predictability. Consider creating and posting for all to see a large, easy to reference daily schedule that includes designated blocks of time: free time for play that does not involve screens (ipad, phone, tv, computer, etc), simple chores, learning activities such as reading or playing learning games, outside time and limited screen time. Think strategically about the order of the activities on the daily schedule such as allowing screen time only after the chores and learning activities are completed. Also, consider enrolling your child in summer activities, if possible, as this will naturally structure some of their time.
Summer provides ample opportunities for new experiences and activities, such as taking a family trip, trying out a new sport or hobby or going to camp. While the potential for enjoyment and learning is great, unfamiliar experiences can be stressful and anxiety provoking for children. If your child experiences anxiety in such situations, let them know it’s completely understandable to feel a bit apprehensive about unfamiliar situations and that you will support them in being brave. When possible, consider strategies to expose them to the new experience in small doses and make it more predictable for them. For example, a child who is anxious about beginning t-ball may find it helpful to visit the t-ball field, practice (in a fun and relaxed manner) some skills that will be used in t-ball with parents and siblings, watch videos about t-ball, and possibly meet with the coach prior to the beginning of the t-ball season. Be sure to acknowledge and praise children’s efforts in being brave and trying new things!
Sleep helps to support children’s emotional wellbeing, behavior, attention and learning. Sleep schedules tend to become less consistent during the summer, which may be contributing to summer challenges. And children need a lot of sleep! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 10-13 hours of sleep per night for preschoolers, 9-12 hours for children and 8-10 hours for teens. To set your child up for sleep success, aim for consistent bedtime and wake up times that allow the recommended amount of sleep for their age.
Encourage your child to get outside and be active in some capacity daily since this tends to have a positive impact on mood. This could involve playing with neighborhood children, a trip to the park, swimming lessons, going along with caregivers to walk the dog, biking, riding a scooter, playing in the backyard, etc.
Finally, as a parent/caregiver, enjoy those wonderful summer moments when they happen and be sure to give yourself some grace as you navigate the inevitably challenging transitions into summer and back to school again.