Summer has arrived!!! And for many children & families the transition to summer brings much anticipation, excitement, and yes…even anxiety and turbulence. Like any journey towards a goal, it can help to “Map Out” your path to a positive and memorable summer experience. Let’s look at some strategies that can help you and your children throughout these summer months…
- Identify a Goal. Just like determining a destination, identify your desired end-result. An overall positive summer experience? Making lasting summer memories? Traveling to a special place? Spending quality time with family & friends? …Children and families work together more cohesively when they share a common goal and know they are working towards it together. With young children it can be difficult to identify and articulate goals, especially something that is more generalized from an adult’s perspective like having a positive summer experience. Try adapting a Get Well Map. Place a specific photo or illustration at the finish line that depicts a fun family experience that everyone is eager to participate in towards the end of summer break.
- Be Patient with the Transition. Anticipate and prepare for a bumpy start! Kids have so many activities that culminate at the end of the school year: field trips, school functions, musical performances, sports games/banquets, and transition/graduation ceremonies. Kids and families are exhausted by the time we reach (or stumble across) the finish line that marks the end of the school year! The transition to less structure during the summer months often does not go as smoothly as we would hope. Behaviors may flare, sibling rivalry spikes, and tempers may ignite. Be patient, maintain a sense of calm and…
- Keep it Positive. Don’t underestimate the power of positivity. If you are struggling with negative behaviors, remember that positive behavior & positive outcomes can be facilitated with consistent expectations and calm, clear redirection. Surround yourself with positivity and recognize negativity when it creeps in. When you sense negativity, it is probably an indicator that you and/or your children are in need of a break, rest, re-connection, help or some extra support.
- Embrace an Attitude of Gratitude. Whether you are a working parent that wishes you had more time at home with your kids during the summer, or a stay-at-home parent that is re-adjusting to having full days with your school-age children…We all have moments where we grumble, and think the grass must be greener on the other side. That negativity and comparison can fester and cause resentfulness. Add a gratitude ritual or “Blessing Jar” to your daily routine to keep you & your children focused on the blessings in your lives.
- Keep it Simple. Sometimes we are tempted to think that summertime will only be memorable if it includes an elaborate experience or vacation. Certainly summertime can be a wonderful time to travel further distances or for a longer periods of time than might be possible when kids are in the midst of the school year. So if you are in a position to take an exciting vacation…Soak it up and enjoy every minute! But don’t be discouraged if you are not able to travel far from home or take extended days off. There are many local destinations that are free or inexpensive, and a little creativity can go a long way! What kids will remember the most are the spontaneous, AND SILLY, memories you make together!
- Provide Some Structure. Kids need a break from their structured school year routine, but the contrast between the structured rhythm of the school day and unstructured summer days are not always a good recipe for many kids. For many children the unstructured nature of summer can create or exacerbate anxiety, worries and inattention. Try creating a summer rhythm that includes a consistent morning activity that incorporates movement and social connection, and a period of rest and recharging in the afternoon.
- Avoid Overscheduling. Just as it is important to provide some structure, be cautious not to overschedule. If your child(ren) are enrolled in daycare or all day camps, anticipate exhaustion from outdoor learning and activities. Use the summer to take a break from evening extracurricular classes, sports & activities. Alternatively, consider s’mores or a game of catch in the evening to share time & connect about the busy events of the day.
- Take Technology Breaks. Establish clear expectations and technology content/time limit guidelines. As difficult as this might be, model it. Turn your phone on vibrate when you are engaged in activities with your kids so you are not tempted to check every text & notification. Encourage kids to take a break from gaming and incorporate technology into more creative learning/research projects (An example could be having kids research geographical & cultural facts about a country, and then having them help prepare a meal that features food from that country for dinner one night during the week). Regarding the topic of taking breaks…Our family uses the term “F.O.B.”- or “Feet On Bed”-as an acronym, since “Nap” is not usually a welcomed word with school age children (at least until the teenage years!). As much as a “Nap” sounds AMAZING to most adults…many kids resist prompted opportunities to rest. Make your own guidelines based on what works best for your child(ren), but as an example, our family’s “F.O.B.” consists of a 60-minute technology-free period on or in their bed. Sleep is not required (although snoozing often occurs anyways). Reading, drawing or coloring are options for quiet activities during “F.O.B.”
- Incorporate Academics in Fun, Creative Ways. Summer can be a great time to incorporate creative learning opportunities that aren’t always available to students during the structured school day. Break out the sidewalk chalk (even for older kids)…Write out the alphabet in a grid & have kids jump the letters for a Summer Spelling Bee. Or numbers in a grid & have kids jump out math equations. Popsicles make great prizes! Encourage creative and imaginative building activities. Many S.T.E.A.M. ideas can be found on pinterest. Inexpensive field trips to state parks, museums & local libraries are full of great hands-on learning opportunities & activities.
- Incorporate a Meaningful Service Project that Helps Others. Some children & families will face difficult life experiences during the summer months. Without the consistency of their school routine, many children and teens will spend their summer breaks with extremely limited resources or amidst challenging family dynamics. Some children will experience a serious illness or injury. Some children may be hospitalized for a scheduled surgery so that they will have the summer months to recover from an orthopedic injury or other medical condition. Helping your children understand that not everyone will be enjoying “Fun in the Sun” this summer can provide a perfect opportunity to teach empathy and service to others. Organize an Alex’s Lemonade Stand to benefit pediatric cancer research, volunteer at a local food bank, inquire about toy/clothing donations that may be needed by a local community organization that serves youth in the foster care system.
Best wishes for a summertime journey full of rest, re-connection, laughter and meaningful memories!
Christina Connors, OTR/L received her degree in Occupational Therapy from Towson University in Baltimore, MD, and has been working as an Occupational Therapist with children and adults since 2002. Inspired by her son’s medical journey, and her desire to ease anxiety and improve age-appropriate communication for children and families facing medical challenges, Christina developed Child Inspired in collaboration with artist John Donato. Child Inspired is working to bring a blend of Art, Therapy and Functional Communication to healthcare and education settings in order to bridge the needs of children, families and healthcare & education professionals.