There Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues? Nonsense!
4 Ways to Survive (and Thrive) During the Kids’ Summer Break
By Laura Hull, LMFT
As the mother of six children, (4 boys, two girls) ranging in age from 19-5, I frequently hear the bewildered comments of dumbfounded others who look at me like I have three heads when I mention that I have six children. I always look forward to summer break with my kids, and experience a short period of mourning when the school year resumes in August. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me over the years, “you must dread the summer break when all the kids are home at once,” I would have the money to write this blog from the sunny beaches on the south of France. I love having my kids home for summer break. However, there are reasons why it works. Chaos is not allowed to reign and boredom is not allowed. Not every minute of summer break needs to be structured, but time should not be wasted, either. Here are some suggestions that have worked in my home:
- Have A Plan! Sit down with your kids today and start an active discussion about what they would like to do with their time this summer. At first, you may get the requisite “I don’t know” answers. But prod by making specific suggestions in order to get the ball rolling. Make a list of activities and post them on the refrigerator. Do the footwork to make those things happen. Get dates, times, costs and start adding events to the calendar. Don’t leave the discussion hanging without coming up with a fairly detailed tentative plan. Did you know that Vacation Bible Schools are happening all over the place during the summer? This is a great way to spend some time with peers over the summer, while also learning important spiritual lessons. These week-long events are usually for a few hours per day and often free or with a very nominal charge to cover material costs. If your child is interested in day camps or week-long camps, summer is the perfect time to explore interests that perhaps cannot be explored during the school year due to time constraints. Camps are great ways to spend time over the summer if your child has interest in going. One downside to the camps is often the cost involved. Camps should be incorporated into the summer schedule only if there is interest in going and if the cost does not create a financial hardship. Many children are in daycare situations during the summer due to parents’ work schedules. These, of course, provide much structure and stimulation during the work week. If your child/children are in daycare all day, Monday through Friday, make a deliberate effort to build quality family time into the weekend schedule. It is very easy to allow weekends to become “catch up” time for house projects, etc. But it’s crucial to make family time on the weekends. Children can, of course, be included in household projects, as is age appropriate. But do NOT let an entire weekend go by without some down time….do something just plain ol’ fun!
- Be Willing to Scrap the Plan! Be flexible. Sometimes even the best-laid plans must be scrapped or adjusted. This is not a tragedy. The beauty of summer break is the ability to change things up. Do not become flustered if trips must be changed or abandoned due to unforeseen circumstances. Illnesses happen, children lose interest in certain activities; sometime kids just need down time to do nothing. Did you catch that last statement? Sometimes kids need permission to just do nothing and veg. I think it’s very easy for us, as parents, to want to involve our kids in as many opportunities as possible, to give them the exposure to many things in order to develop their interests and skill sets. Like adults, kids can experience burnout too. It just looks different on a child. I have been guilty of this, as well, more so when my older children were younger. Try to build at least one day into every week that is truly flexible - time-wise and activity-wise. Be flexible enough to accommodate impromptu play dates with friends and last minute activities/invites as they come along.
- Give Kids Some Responsibilities! Make a very direct and specific list of things to be addressed over the summer. Perhaps set an expectation for assigned reading. (eg. three novel length books over the summer, or whatever is age appropriate). Another suggestion is to make each child responsible for choosing, planning and executing the preparation for dinner one night per week. This is appropriate for school age children, with the amount of adult supervision being contingent on age and previous experience. Pre-teens and older are most often very capable of researching recipes online, planning grocery lists, and preparing a meal. Teens should be capable of this with little or no direct supervision. Even younger children are capable of helping (with plenty of adult supervision) make cookies or other types of baking (helping grease and flour plans, adding ingredients to the mixing bowls, etc.) If your children are not comfortable in the kitchen, make this summer the summer they learn! Pre-teen and older children can be taught how to competently wash and dry their own clothes without ruining them. These types of skills must be learned at some point anyway, and give kids a feeling of accomplishment when they do them successfully. So why not start now? Keeping bedrooms clean, and other household chores should be very manageable over the summer. Require it.
- Be Patient, Loving and Kind With Your Children We only have a limited number of summers with our children at home. While it is very easy to feel flustered with the demands of parenthood, the reality is that time is fleeting. It’s so cliché to say “it only seems like yesterday when they were just babies”, but it’s true. PARENTS: you have the power to create memories for your children. They will remember how much time you spent or did not spend with them. They will remember if you were patient and kind, or if you were irritated and impatient most of the time. They will remember if you were truly engaged with them or dismissive and too busy to be bothered. These days of childhood are numbered and what you do with them can determine the kinds of people they will be in life, and the kind of relationship you have with them in their adult lives. WHAT YOU DO RIGHT NOW MATTERS.
Make the decision right now that this summer will be the summer that you and they will remember fondly. It is within your power and control to make this happen. Create some beautiful memories with your children. It will mean a lot to them now, and they will remember it later. It will mean even more to you later. Trust. Make it happen.