If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.
— Edgar W. Howe
Perhaps you’ve been enjoying your summer, getting extra time to have fun with your kids without the pressure of homework and extracurricular activities.
Let’s face it, summer’s a mixed bag. If you’re a parent who doesn’t get time off from work in the summer, it means an extra 30 hours to figure out how to keep your kids safe, occupied, and out of trouble. If you’re feeling overly burdened, and more stressed than excited about summer, you’re definitely not alone.
Here are some tips to keep in mind so that you don’t go crazy and blame yourself when things aren’t running as smoothly as you’d like…
- It’s not your job to keep your child from ever experiencing boredom
Boredom is an inevitable part of life, especially for children. It’s also an important teacher. If you allow your kids to feel bored and you don’t immediately jump in to “fix it,” they’ll have an opportunity to learn how to find something to do and how to be alone. They’ll also realize that they can’t always be the center of your universe. These are lessons that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
If your kids don’t know how to amuse themselves when alone, they’ll also become more and more dependent on others to entertain them. (As an interesting side note, most of the greatest inventions and works of art were accomplished by individuals who could spend countless hours alone.)
- Find ways to “work” and play
Far too often, parents feel guilty that they aren’t spending enough time with their kids. As a result, they overindulge them with material things, video games and TV time, and far too late bedtimes. In many parts of the world, children work side by side with parents and relatives, and have great fun doing so.
Unless kids are taught that work isn’t fun, they may be curious about exploring any activity. Summer is a great time to let your kids help more around the house so you can ALL do something fun together.
- Don’t relax the rules and routines too much
Even though you may not need to rush off to school in the morning, it’s best not to abandon the structures that are typically in place during the school year. Most parents still have to go to work and still need time to be alone with a partner or with other adults.
Younger children can’t usually sleep in, so later or irregular bedtimes can create sleep deprivation and irritability. Kids thrive when parents provide lots of love and warmth, but also firmness and structure. Don’t be pressured or guilt-tripped into too many overnights or unlimited screen time.
- Make reading part of your summer routine
Reading books and magazines is one activity that kids can do when bored, and it’s a routine ideally built into every child’s summer. Libraries are important places to explore because kids can try a dozen books for free and discover what they enjoy.
When kids are asked why they don’t read, they say it’s because they can’t find books they like. Freedom of choice is the ticket to getting them motivated and excited. Never mind that the books are about sports heroes, or bugs or ghosts and vampires. Reading a comic book still counts as reading — especially in the summer.
- Spend time in nature
Studies show that exposure to nature has profound effects on the health and well-being of children and adults alike. Psychologists at Stanford recently published a study showing how a 90-minute stroll through the woods or other unspoiled landscape reduced the negative thinking associated with anxiety and depression.
Try to spend as much time outside as your climate allows. Since kids spend the majority of the school year sitting in classrooms, summer’s the time to get outside and make exercise a daily habit. Play outdoor games, run in the sprinklers, build forts, plant gardens, set up lemonade stands, catch bugs, and make collages out of leaves and flowers. The sky is literally the limit.
- Add creative outlets to your summer
During the school year, most kids complain that they don’t have enough time just to play. Summer’s the perfect time to bring out the arts and crafts, the crayons and paints, the scissors and glue.
There are countless ideas for arts and crafts projects for kids of every age (grown-ups too) that can be found on line or in books from the library. Dedicate a room, or part of a room if you can, that can stay “messy” so that creative ideas can be worked on whenever the mood is right (or the weather is bad).
- Crank up the tunes!
Kids are too often glued to video games that don’t allow them to develop visual imagination. Put on music in the house and dance, sing and play along. There are websites that offer free music for kids to help them develop social and emotional skills in fun and entertaining ways.
Music CD’s and educational DVD’s can also be taken out of the library for free when you go to get books. Have the kids write and put on a play or a concert.
- Connect with family, friends and neighbors
Every family in your neighborhood is probably hearing the same complaints from their kids — (“I’m sooooo bored.”) So work out trades with other parents. Give each other a free evening off by trading babysitting. One evening each week, arrange a potluck picnic with several families at a park or the beach so that the kids can play together and the parents can commiserate.
- Find out what your local community offers and what you can give back
Summer’s the perfect time for service projects that give back to the community. Encourage your teen or older child to volunteer at a summer camp, local library, trash clean-up day, community garden, or animal shelter. Just having your kid do the research about what the community needs is an excellent learning. Let them pack up outgrown clothes, toys and books and plan a garage sale where they donate the proceeds to a cause they believe in.
- Remember the big picture and listen to your own needs
Try to make learning, loving and living in the moment your highest priority. Be on the lookout for positive moments so you can share appreciations and praise. Families do best when everybody (including adults) feels more appreciated.
Create time to be apart from the children and nurture yourself and your adult relationships. Families are often not accustomed to being together so much of the time. Allow some ebbs and flows of being together and apart, and of quiet and more active times.
One of the greatest gifts you can offer your children is your own sense of happiness and well-being. Look after yourself. Get enough sleep. Give yourself a break. Take a deep breath. Go barefoot in the woods.