Let the countdown begin! With only a few more weeks left in the school year, children are preparing for the ultimate dismissal—summer break. For many families, plans include some combination of camp, travel, social gatherings, long-term homework, downtime, and more. Yet, feeling the ease of summer is not always…easy. Frequent transitions, new environments, and changes in routine can create challenges, even when the activities are meant to be fun. Fortunately, a little proactive parenting can get families on the right track. Here are eight ways to set your child up for success this summer
- Maintain routines and maximize consistency: Without the looming pressures of the school week, it’s tempting to loosen routines, push bedtimes, and drop expectations. Even when the summer is just as packed with organized activities, your well-oiled routine machine may need a tune-up for the transition. Sticking to a daily schedule, when possible, is a good way to optimize predictability for your child and prevent conflict. Where needed, make adjustments to fit with the new daily plan. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for your family. Remember that simple tweaks in the flow, such as switching bath time or adding a brush-teeth-before-TV rule, can make a big difference. It may take time for your child to acclimate to new procedures, but keep at it. Repetition and consistency will have them on track within a few days.
- Communicate plans and rules: Curveballs in the schedule and unclear expectations are common causes of friction. Children do best when they know what to expect. To avoid a clash, give your child a morning rundown and periodic reminders of rules and plans, especially when you change the daily routine or establish a new one. For example, "We’re going to the pool for about an hour, and then we’ll have lunch. After that, the plan is to head out to the beach. Remember to stay where I can see you, walk safely around the pool, and be ready to take a sunscreen break when I ask.”
Transitional warnings (i.e., giving your child a few minutes of advanced notice that the activity is about to switch) can also help the day flow more smoothly. Lastly, remember that there is no way to prepare for everything. Speak to your child about the need for flexibility and the reality that plans can change.
- Catch your child being good: As many parents can attest—whining, noncompliance, and backtalk have a way of grabbing our attention. Understandably, the reflex to notice and respond to problem behaviors is often much sharper than the instinct to prevent them. This can lead parents to use lots of corrections and negative feedback. Make it a priority to notice moments when your child is simply meeting (or exceeding) expectations. Highlight the times they are waiting patiently in line for ice cream or sharing toys at the family barbeque—moments of good choices and emotion regulation.
- Create structured downtime: In a perfect world, idle time on road trips and lazy days are what summer dreams are made of. In reality, unstructured downtime can be too open-ended for some children, leaving more room for them to act out. Create a list of downtime ideas and activities to use on days without a formal plan. This will help to prevent your child from getting antsy and avoid a last-minute scramble. Don’t forget to plan for rainy days and heat waves, and be mindful of your budget—extravagance is not required here. Board games at home or a trip to the local park can make for a great summer day.
- When possible, give your child choices: Research shows that young children receive well over 1,000 directives per day from adults. Children are told when to wake-up, what to eat, and where to go. They need this scaffolding to learn healthy habits and follow the rules, but being ordered around all day can be draining. Giving your child room to make certain decisions gets them feeling empowered and makes them more likely to go with the flow. While bathing and going to bed may not be choices, there are lots of areas that can be flexible—especially during the summer. Be sure to clarify for your child what is mandatory versus an option, and provide them with two to three choices, when possible. For example, “We’re going to sign you up for a 2-week program in July, but we want to give you a chance to choose something you’ll enjoy. Would you prefer basketball, art, or coding?” A little bit of agency can go a long way.
- Create a screentime plan: Parents can use The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines to create a framework for screentime rules. But in practice, families handle screentime in a wide range of ways, and decisions are impacted by a variety of factors—the child’s age, family beliefs, enforceability of limits, among others. Some impose strict limitations, while others take an “anything goes” approach. For many, the shifts in routine during the summer can lead to more battles over screentime. At the same time, making sure your child is occupied with a tablet during a long flight is a reasonable way to keep the peace. A little forethought here can be helpful. Decide what limits (or lack thereof) work best for your family, and establish rules that are defined enough to minimize conflict. The most important ingredients are consistency and clear communication about the rules, when possible. For example, let your child know that you plan to allow one hour of daily tablet time while camp is in session but will restrict screen use to long car rides while traveling. It’s okay for limits to evolve a bit or have more exceptions during the summer, as long as your child stays up-to-date about what to expect.
- Support your child’s task planning: Much to the chagrin of students everywhere, schools often assign long-term homework or reading assignments for children to complete during summer break. Depending on the size of the assignment and your child’s academic motivation, this can be a source of conflict. The large window of opportunity, pause in daily homework accountability, and many fun distractions can make it hard to buckle-down. Plus, your child may simply not yet have the skills required to break down tasks and manage their time. Be realistic about what your child is able to do independently, and support them from there. They may benefit from a calendar or visual schedule, as well as the promise of a more fun activity after they finish their portion for the day. To minimize pushback, work with your child to create a plan that breaks it down into manageable bits and has them putting in some time on a regular basis.
- Make time to join in the play: Research shows that playing with your child for just five minutes per day can lead to significant improvements in the parent-child relationship and child behavior. This is true in every season, but the laidback atmosphere of summer creates the perfect backdrop for quality time. A daily dose of your undivided attention is a great way to fill your child’s bucket, and it can be a nice opportunity to purely enjoy each other’s company. Start by giving your child a few hands-on toys to choose from. (Legos, coloring supplies, and sand toys at the beach are a few great options.) Then, just follow your child’s lead! That’s it—get on the floor, and channel your inner kid. For maximum impact, comment on your child’s creative choices throughout, and be on the lookout for positive behaviors to praise. Sharing, taking turns, problem-solving, and good manners are just some of the many behaviors you’ll notice when you approach the play with focus and intention.
Need more parenting support? At Handspring Health we offer parenting sessions with expert clinicians, so that every parent has the tools they need to support their children. Reach out to book a free consult today.