5 Essential Parenting Strategies for Summer Success
Summer can be a challenging time for parents. This is especially true for parents whose children struggle with intense emotional and behavior challenges. Unfortunately, because of the unique nature of these issues, we can’t do things the same way other families around us do. We don’t always have the luxury of taking long vacations or putting our kids in summer camps for 3 months. Nor can we safely allow our children to roam the neighborhood without supervision. Without some careful planning and practice, summer can quickly become something to dread and fear more than love. It often feels like we’ve become prison wardens or that we’re going crazy ourselves.
Thankfully, we have learned to make summers work for us over the years. It has taken a lot of years and a lot of trial and error, but we did it! My kids have finally figured out it really is more fun to do something positive rather than sitting around bored all day. They also fight less, complain less, and feel better about life in general when their brains and bodies are engaged in constructive rather than destructive activities. Things are so much better than they used to be!
Aren’t we supposed to keep kids busy?
As a parent, it can be tempting to fill every minute of every day with craft bonanzas, sports leagues, summer camps, lessons, and other activities. After all, we need to keep those kids busy and entertained all summer long, right? After all, no one wants their kids to pester, torment, and argue with each other…or fly into a rage and destroy the house…or zone out in front of of a screen for three months.
I confess. I used to subscribe to the “keep ’em busy all the time” plan. It turned out to be very expensive and left me frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted, and playing “Mom Taxi” all summer long. Even then, all those wonderful activities still didn’t fill every minute of every day. I hated it and so did my kids…and we fought all the time over it! I finally realized it is OK for kids to be bored. In fact, it is actually good for them! It is good for their brains and very good for their social and emotional development. Learning how to entertain themselves in healthy, productive, and screen-free ways is an essential life skill.
Guess what I realized along the way? It is not my job to keep them entertained. It’s not my job to be a summer cruise director, the family entertainment committee, or one-woman summer carnival. My job is to be the mom, to keep the family and household running smoothly, get my own work done, make sure the kids are healthy, happy, and safe, and to take care of me. My kids’ job is do what they’re supposed to do (aka daily chores) and find ways to keep themselves busy and entertained in positive, productive, and drama-free ways that help strengthen their brains.
Summer Success Strategies
Resist the urge to over-schedule
We all need downtime and time to relax, renew, and refresh. Keep things as light, fun, and low key as possible. After all, that’s what summer is all about! It also leaves time for working on attachment and healing. In the grand scheme of things, that really is one of the most important and most productive things we can do during these summer months.
Resist the urge to under-schedule or under-plan
On the flip side, too much of a good thing is never a good thing for anyone. Many children, especially kids with developmental delays or trauma, NEED structure, routine, and predictability in order to function. You may not love being tied down to a summer schedule, but your kids do. Leaving them to their own devices or with too much down time, especially without any support, is an invitation for meltdown and trouble.
I recently published a post about “The Importance of Play”. If you haven’t read it, go check it out. The long and the short of it is that play is good for everyone, including adults!
Play is a vital part of human and social development, it strengthens relationships (and attachment), and it helps regulate emotions and mood. In fact, as Mr. Rogers so appropriately stated “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” It isn’t something that needs to be earned or is merely a default when there’s nothing else to do.
Don’t forget to play with your kids, too. They love it when we adults get down on their level and join their world instead of always having to join ours. It’s also a great way to strengthen those bonds of attachment. Yup, I get that sometimes the last thing we want to do is play with a kid who’s been a punk all day. Do it anyway! You might just find out it’s exactly what they need in order to settle down!
Try something new every day
Establish a pattern and expectation of trying something new every day. Keep in mind that if kids don’t “want” to do it or loudly proclaim that something is “stupid” or “boring”, they may not know how to do it. They may need you to teach them.
Doing new things isn’t always comfortable for any of us, especially our hurt kids. It feels awkward and vulnerable and can leave us fearful of judgement if we don’t get it right the first time. If your kids are resistant to trying new things or even getting up off the couch, this might be why.
Don’t let that stop you, though. Keep trying and do new things anyway. We learn by doing and by practicing…and who knows…you might also discover that you actually love it once you actually do it.
Once kids start an activity (especially a new one) establish a minimum time in which they need to engage in it. For example, if they choose to build something with Legos, they need to spend at least 20 minutes doing it. Keep in mind that some kids may need more direction than you think they might or should need, too. In order to keep them engaged in their activity, they may need a specific request from you such as build a house, a boat, a car, or even a teddy bear. If they can’t figure out how to build it their own, help them figure out what tools or supplies they need and where they can find instructions or tutorials.
Going right along with that, significantly limit screen time and kids’ access to it. This may involve changing the WiFi password, removing electronic devices such as gaming systems or DVD players, or restricting data access through your wireless carrier.
At our house, we’ve found it best to offer a daily allotment of screen time rather than saying a flat “no”. We’ve found they are a lot more cooperative and it doesn’t trigger the deprivation triggers if they know it’s available. If you opt for that route, be specific about what the limits are…and stick to to them. Let the kids know when screens are available and how much time is available. Also make a clear statement that when it’s gone, it’s gone or if they cause problems because of the screens, their job is to find something else to do.
Need more ideas?
Check out my “Boredom Busters” book! This little gem is one of our favorite summer sanity savers. It contains nearly 200 inexpensive (most are free), simple, screen-free ideas for things kids can do, especially when “there’s nothing to do!” A downloadable, printable and most importantly, already done for you version is available. Be sure to also join my Facebook group for daily motivation, inspiration, support, and tools!
Now it’s your turn!
What are your favorite summer survival strategies? What works best at your house? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.