How To Balance Structure and Ease For a Fantastic Summer
How's your summer going? Have you settled into a rhythm that works for you? Or are you wishing your kids were doing less screens and squabbling, and more reading and helping? There's still time to make some tweaks for a memorable, fun summer that brings your whole family closer, without as much screen time and with minimal whining and fighting.
To make summer successful, it helps to get clear about a few important issues. Once you're clear yourself, you can have a family meeting and get your kids excited about what's ahead. Since you're already halfway through the summer, your child may resist any changes. But this halfway point is a perfect opportunity for everyone -- kids and adults -- to weigh in on what's working for them so far this summer, and what they'd like to improve.
These tweaks will make for a better summer whether you're home with your child or your child is with grandparents or a nanny, and they can
be adapted for kids who go to a day camp. These tweaks use structure to increase a sense of well-being for everyone. More well-being means
less whining and fighting, and more cooperation and closeness. Completely worth it, because even if your child resists at first, they'll
quickly notice the difference in how they feel, too!
1. Create some boundaries around how kids spend time.
- Have your kids spend as much time outside as possible, every single day. The more time children are outside, the healthier and happier they are. We're just beginning to learn why nature affects us so profoundly -- for instance, trees apparently release chemicals that lift our moods! -- but we do know that nature helps humans flourish. It may take kids half an hour to figure out what to do with themselves, but once they do, they'll find the outdoors endlessly interesting. They won't get bored, they won't fight with each other, and they'll sleep better that night. Being outdoors gives you the perfect opportunity to experiment safely with a more "free-range" approach, which fosters independence and resilience in children. Every indicator of physical and mental health will improve for every hour your child spends outside.
- Reduce screen-time for the summer. That's because most physical and mental health indicators will get worse for every hour your child spends using screens. You'll be under constant pressure to increase the screen time, so you're setting yourself up for whining. What's worse, kids who use screens don't develop the resourcefulness to entertain themselves. There is no benefit to your child in giving them screens during the summer, when they could use that open time for outdoor exploration, reading and free play. Summer is a wonderful time for kids to hang with their friends, but be aware that often they will be on screens at other kids' homes. Invite kids to your home and set up a sprinkler outside, or help them build a fort or obstacle course inside.
- Every child should have some reading time every day during the summer. This is not just a time for them to "practice" or for you to get something else done. This is a time to get them excited about reading! Reading is correlated with most predictors of academic achievement. Every child can fall in love with reading. Here's how.
- Summer is the perfect time for kids to "help" more around the house. No child likes to do chores. But we know that children who help around the house become more responsible and helpful as they grow up than children who don't do chores at home. Summer, with less academic pressure and away from the endless schedule of activities and sports, is the perfect time for kids to take on a new responsibility. Pick a responsibility that your child is excited about mastering, like doing their laundry or making dinner. And add the special sauce by doing this new responsibility WITH them as they master it, and making it a fun connection time.
2. Create a routine.
For instance, every day we get up by X time. After breakfast, we all clean up the house together. Then the kids have play time. (No screens, preferably outside.) Then it's lunch time. After lunch we leave the house. Sometimes this is for errands, like the market. Sometimes, we go out together to a park or playground or hike or the pool or beach. When we come home, it's quiet time. Everyone reads or plays quietly for an hour. During this time, the parent can have some one on one time with each child. Routine gives a shape to the day and reduces power struggles and complaints about boredom. Here's why routines are so important.
3. Create challenge.
Summer is a terrific time for your child to try something new, from learning to swim to riding the bus or subway alone to finding three vegetables they like. Why not do some safety skills training so you can allow your child a more free-range experience? Maybe everyone in the family can take on a challenge this summer and support each other in doing something courageous?
4. Create the opportunity for your child to engage with the stuff of life: TIME.
Don't feel like you need to entertain your child. Your job is to create the structure; your child's job is to find something interesting to do. Lie on their backs and look for shapes in the clouds. Draw a floor plan for the house they want to build some day. Compose a song. Out of boredom comes creativity. Boredom is good for kids.
5. Create connection, fun and memories.
Make sure you have fun with your kids daily, and that you get some daily relaxed one on one time with each child. And don't forget to work with your whole family to plan some fantastic family memories, even if you don’t have the money or time to head off on vacation. See this article for some ideas to get you started, especially #9: 10 Tips to Make This the Best Summer Ever with Your Family.