SCHOOL IS OUT: Tips for Creating a Successful Summer Experience for Children and Parents

For most children and teens, summer means fun! It’s a break from early morning risings, school demands, and homework pressure.

For many parents, summer can be filled with trepidation. While there can be a sense of relief that these school pressures are on hold, other challenges may arise. For parents of younger children, there is now the expectation of needing to keep children occupied 24/7. And for parents of tweens and teens, there is the struggle of wondering what is my child going to do all day now that he/she is too old for camp? Or perhaps worse, what is going to be happening in our house when we are at work?!

And for many children and teens, shortly into summer break, boredom sets in and challenges begin. It can be challenging to find constructive things to do and meaningful ways to fill those golden days of “summer vacation”. For children who are diagnosed with AD/HD and/or ASD, it is even more essential that they have meaningful activities and daily structure built into their days.

As summer begins, a little thoughtful planning can prevent tense days that lead to a countdown to fall, and instead replace them with days that are relaxing, productive, and fun!

Tips for Success

  1. Identify summer goals (big and small) for your child/teen. Determine where your child can benefit from building skills over the summer (socially, emotionally, and/or academically), and then talk with them to find a creative way to work toward that goal. Helping your child set a summer goal and steps for accomplishing it builds confidence, teaches skills, and is a great way to create routine and focus attention.
  2. Make time for scheduled AND unscheduled time each day.   It is critical to have both, and in doing so, you and your child will be more relaxed and effective. While this sounds simple, it is surprising how often this is not practiced during summer months.  Many children assume that summer should be a break from all demands, which may increase stress and conflict in the home. Finding a balance is key.
  3. Maintain your normal routine. Consistency even during the summer months helps children and teens stay successful throughout the summer months. Children often find it easier to function effectively (emotionally and behaviorally) within the structure of a routine. Keep meal times and sleep routines similar to what you do during the school year (this will not only make for a better summer, but will make the transition back to school easier too!).
  4. Plan your day. Think about your, and your children’s, energy levels as you decide a structure for your daily routine. Determine when is a good time for a planned activity, free play/leisure time, rest/down time, meals, etc. While this seems intuitive, something as simple as getting the television off in the morning to get out of the house after breakfast, or scheduling social time, and saving leisure activities for after lunch, can allow for more successful outings and get togethers.
  5. Unplug. Take time to turn off the television, computers, and even put down your phone! While these devices are wonderful, there is a time and a place for them. Unfortunately, children are not the only ones guilty of constantly being on them. Be aware of what you are modeling and make an effort to “be” with your children. Set a certain time each day to unplug from devices to allow for conversation and connection without distraction.
  6. Daily task lists. Create a list of list of chores or ‘to do’s’ with your child that he/she can chose form daily. This gives them small jobs to complete which is helpful in teaching responsibility, building confidence, and helps you in the process! Plan 10-15 minutes of time where this is built into the schedule (right before a preferred activity).
  7. Use a Wall Calendar. Put a calendar in a family area that has the schedule and all family member’s events and activities, in addition to the ones that you want to plan.  This allows everyone in the family to benefit (but especially children with AD/HD or ASD) of knowing what to expect each day. Many children thrive better when they know their schedule. When children know what they will be doing, they are able to be less anxious and do/feel better.
  8. Establish Quiet Time. Be sure to set aside quiet time for the children and you every day of the week. Maintaining an active and non-active balance creates peace in the home. Allow yourself to actually BE quiet during this time rather than use it as an opportunity to tend to catch up on Facebook, emails, or do household chores.  We all need time to rest. Self-care is the key to successful parenting!
  9. Make Memories. Children can be a part by creating a summer “bucket list” and these can be scheduled or randomly selected during free days throughout the summer. Play to the child’s strengths. Doing things children are good at and enjoy is an excellent way to build resilience and self-esteem. When the activities chosen are just challenging enough, it allows children to stretch their brains and body in a way that builds healthy self-esteem.
  10. Make time for play.  We often underestimate the value of play.  Research has repeatedly shown the incredible benefits of play of child development in many areas, including improving stamina, sharpening coordination, strengthening muscles, and providing a number of other mental and social benefits. Children also learning ways to feel and express emotion, developing valuable social skills like getting along with others, and problem solving when engaging in sports, games, and creative play. In addition, simply spending time outdoors has proven benefits for children (research tells us that when children are surrounded by nature they feel more focused than when on technology or asphalt alone).

The key elements of having a successful summer with your child are balancing time for relaxation while also building in activities (many kids need to be busy)! By using activities which play to your child’s strengths, it is easy to find fun and focused fun activities that match your child’s interests and skills. With a little ingenuity and forethought, summer can be a relaxing time that includes growth and fun too!

Written by Victoria L. Norton, Psy.D. at Linden BP. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.