By Dr. Lisa Brown and Dr. Jonathan Stern, RSS School Psychologists
As your family transitions from the school year to the summer, the following suggestions may be helpful to you:
Not So Great Expectations
Believe it or not, some kids don’t embrace the transition to summer as smoothly and easily as we’d expect or like. Once the structure of school ends, the stress they’ve been holding in may pop out. Young kids spend the school year controlling their impulses and delaying gratification, and they can often become grumpy, “fall apart,” and/or “let loose” when school is over. In these times of intense academics and overscheduling, older kids may become testy and/or lethargic, and just want/need to sleep a lot and “do nothing” for a while. Let them for a few weeks. Don’t schedule in too much right after school ends, as their bodies and brains are telling you that they need to reset.
A Matter of Time
Kids’ schedules tend to have a different rhythm during the summer with more unstructured time. Should you let them be loose with their time? Well, yes and no. While kids benefit from unstructured time in order to decompress and rediscover what they like to do, they also need a basic schedule so that they know what to expect.
Limiting Screen Time
Too much screen time can disconnect family members from each other and kids from their own active imaginations. Limiting screen time and forbidding it during meals is helpful. Encouraging fun reading in older kids, reading to younger kids, and taking turns reading a fun book with your kids (and partner!) is, of course, a great substitute. Don’t force your kids to read, however, because then it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. And be a role model—limit your own screen time and enjoy reading and doing other fun activities when you’re around your kids.
The Benefits of Boredom
With less structure, the summer is a good time to help kids develop the capacity to tolerate and cope with boredom. There’s a benefit to boredom, you ask? Yes. It helps kids look inward to find out what interests them. It fosters self-reliance and creativity. And, it strengthens the ability to sit with an uncomfortable feeling and the process of figuring out how to deal with it. So, how can you help your kids with this? For one, try not to rush in to give them ideas of things to do. Instead, consider saying, “I’m sure you’ll think of something to do,” and they likely will. While they may push back initially, be patient – they will get used to relying on themselves over time.
Experience Usual Activities in Unusual Ways
Anything, even chores, can be turned into an adventure, and summer allows you more time and space to be playful. This in turn teaches your kids how to transform work into play. For example, when my kids (Jonathan Stern here) were young, we would turn supermarket shopping into a safari and have our kids “hunt” for desired items in the aisles. Trips to the museum were scavenger hunts. When my wife asked, “Where’s the violin?” it was also an opportunity for our sons to notice a few Rembrandt’s or Monet’s along the way.
Try Something New
The summer is a great time to encourage your child to try something new. It doesn’t have to be something big or time-consuming. Doing new things helps kids learn about preferences for a broader range of experiences. It also can foster feelings of confidence in approaching other unfamiliar activities. It can be enjoyable for families to try new things together. One family I know (Lisa Brown here) decided to take skateboarding lessons together. It was very helpful and fun for the kids to see their parents deal with the challenges of learning to maneuver on their skateboards along with them.
No matter what you and your family do when school’s out, keep these tips in mind to help your child(ren) transition from student to vacation mode. Most of all, remember to slow down and enjoy each other this summer!
Originally published June 5, 2017 for RSS Connect.