At first it feels great to have a more relaxed schedule, to revel in the break from school-year frenzy. Families look forward to spending more time with each other. Kids with parents, parents with kids. With more daylight hours, maybe you push bedtime later and everyone sleeps in a bit. Maybe you and your kids stay in PJ’s until noon, or maybe even all day. Maybe you make it to the playground, maybe you don’t. No biggie. After all, no one’s taking attendance.
But eventually many families find less structure means less satisfaction.
Kids who have adjusted to the rhythms of social exchange and planned activity inherent in a school schedule become out of sorts with too much free time. They get cranky and hard to motivate. And the heat and humidity only increase everyone’s inertia. It’s not too long before “go with the flow” makes you want to tear your hair out. Or theirs.
So how do you survive summer? How do you make it lazy, but not too crazy? Here are some suggestions:
Use advance preparation and problem-solving techniques. As I’ve said in previous posts, kids like to, and need to know what’s going to happen to them (see my previous post about this here.) Make sure your kids know what’s on the agenda for the next day, before they go to sleep.
Model flexibility. Since summer plans are generally less set in stone and often weather-dependent, make sure you communicate this reality to your kids so they don’t freak out when you tell them the next morning it’s too rainy to go to the beach. Have a back up plan and encourage suggestions from your children.
Stay social. Major developmental shifts don’t take vacations over the summer months and little kids need to practice emerging social skills. So don’t keep to yourselves too much. Continuity of social connection is essential especially for little ones. Unless you’re training them for monkshood, make sure to visit with other families, take classes, go to the playgrounds, parks, and zoos. Maybe schedule a regular weekly playdate with a reliable playmate.
Don’t flake out. Don’t be the kind of parent who uses the relaxed rhythms of summer as an excuse to renege on plans, especially those that include other families. Parents who take a “go with the flow” attitude too far, canceling plans at the last minute set a bad example for children, and leave other parents in the lurch. If you suspect you might be on the receiving end of this kind of selfish parenting, if there’s a chance another family may bail on you, prep your child accordingly ahead of time. And find more reliable friends.
Don’t slack off on chores and teamwork. School focuses on respect and responsibility for property and the community. Keep this up at home. Give your young ones specific summertime chores they can help with, and list the chores on the family calendar. List your chores as well, even the mundane, like dishwashing, TV watching, and grocery shopping.
Model a sense of adventure. Down time at home is necessary, but remember, it feels (and sounds) even more luxurious when it is punctuated with purposeful activity. If you’re at a loss for what to do, check out the resource pages and recommendations on this very website (Karen has done her research!). Mix up the tried and true with some new experiences; day trips to beaches, state parks, new neighborhood pools.
Don’t expect yourself to have the energy level of a camp counselor, and don’t think every day has to be a big deal. Pay attention to the energy level of yourself and your child. If daily outings seem too labor-intensive, try an on-day, off-day approach.
Take time off. Occasionally for everyone’s sake you should take a break from running Parent Camp. If you start to suffer from summer-brain fry, consider paying for afternoon babysitting every now and then. Spend the afternoon in a movie theater or sports bar. If babysitting is not an option, trade off with other burned-out parents, exchange drop-off playdates, or at least drop off hours. Go home, crank up the A/C, turn on the TV.
Add one bowl of ice cream.
Now that’s what I call summer.
Originally published in A Child Grows in Brooklyn on June 6, 2010