By Jean Holthaus, LISW
I loved summer as a child and spent hours playing with siblings, reading, riding bike, and learning to sew and cook. It was wonderful! However, as a working parent with two children, summer could often feel overwhelming. I love my children but an entire summer of being responsible for them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week seemed…well, daunting to say the least. I suspect many parents face June, July, and August with the same sense of fear and trepidation I often felt. If this is you, don’t panic! It is possible to enjoy summer, provide a healthy environment for your children, and maintain your sanity.
Psychologically and physiologically, we are creatures of habit. This means children, like adults, crave structure. School naturally provides structure and helps children know what is going to happen next. While summer routines can be more flexible, it remains important to have a daily structure. Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine, getting up at about the same time each day, and eating meals/snacks at around the same time allows the body to establish a sense of rhythm and helps everyone’s mood remain stable (including yours). Whenever possible, include your children in making the schedule. Children are more cooperative if they have a voice in the decision making process. Children do better if they know what is planned so talk through the schedule and/or post it in a prominent place. When everyone knows the schedule instead of you telling them it is time to practice their band instrument, the schedule tells them…easier for all involved!
Intuitively, parents know children need to have chores around the house. However, getting children to see this as important can be difficult. Children want to feel important and want to contribute in ways that matter. So, instead of telling your children what they need to do, engage them in a conversation about ways they can be helpful to you and the family. Starting the conversation with, “I need your help,” may feel uncomfortable, but it helps children know they have something valuable to contribute.
Make a list of chores that need to be done each day/week and talk about how to divide up these chores so everyone is contributing to the family in age-appropriate ways. Allow your children to help with tasks like making meals, doing laundry, or cleaning. While it may take longer for the chores to be completed, the rewards are three-fold: it keeps them occupied, it will eventually lessen your workload (you won’t always have to teach them), and it teaches life skills they need to be successful adults.
While structure is important, too much structure takes away children’s opportunities to use their imagination and learn to structure themselves when external structure is absent. When planning your children’s day, structure in “free time” where children choose activities within established parameters. Be prepared for the inevitable “I’m bored” chant by creating a “Bored Jar.” Choose activities your child might not think of doing like drawing with sidewalk chalk, collecting insects, riding bike/scooter/ripstik, going on a scavenger hunt, shooting hoops, writing a story, or going on a nature walk and write each activity on a slip of paper. Include age-appropriate chores they can do to help around the house. When the “I’m bored” chant begins, offer the options of finding something to do or picking something out of the jar. Add activities to the jar throughout the summer and allow children to contribute as well (be sure to pre-approve their additions!).
Another thing to consider as you contemplate summer schedules is “summer slide.” Between May and August, children often lose ground in academic areas like math and reading because skills learned in school are not practiced over the summer. Consider scheduling activities which encourage your child to either practice concepts they struggled with during school or to explore areas of special interest. Talk with your child’s teacher to get suggestions and recommendations tailored to your child. Create reward systems to help children remain motivated and use this time to help bolster your child’s self-confidence. Build educational time into the schedule and be sure to make it fun!
Summer is full of promise and possibility. Embrace the potential and remind yourself that the time and energy you proactively put into creating a positive structured environment this summer will be well worth it!
What's going in your "Bored Jar"?
Jean Holthaus, LISW is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and clinic manager at the Pine Rest Pella Clinic. She earned a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Northern Iowa and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Iowa in 1995.