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Parenting Article: SUMMER!

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By Meagan Witt, LCSW
Stenzel Clinical Services

If you step into a school for merely five minutes the excitement surrounding summer is apparent and has been resonating throughout the hallways since the students returned from Spring Break.  Summer plans are echoing off the walls of the school – spending time in the warm weather, vacationing, summer camps, swimming at the pool and LOTS OF FREE TIME!  Free time can be a good thing as it provides an opportunity to relax, spend time with friends, or take care of things around the house; however, it can also be a difficult time for children, adolescents and their parents.  For everyone, the lack of structure can be a welcomed relief, but also a challenge for many.  As a parent, how can you help your child manage all this free time?  Better yet, how can you help yourself maintain boundaries and expectations with your children when school is not providing homework and the necessity for early bed times?

For the parent of the elementary age child:

Attempt to implement some structure to the day.  Remember, your child just got out of school and is used to having a routine, so if you implement the structure from the first day, it will be easier to get them to follow suit.  Please do not misunderstand the suggestion, it’s not that you have to have a rigid plan to follow hour by hour, but some small routines may decrease the chaos and make it easier to manage your child.  For example, you can start by having your child wake up at the same time each day and follow the same routine each morning – eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc.  The morning is also a good time to have your child work on any summer school work provided by the classroom teacher to minimize regression over the summer.  If the school has not provided anything, this is a time when your child can read for 20 minutes, work on math problems, or other academic skills that are important to maintain.  Throughout the rest of the day, time can be filled with summer camps, going to the pool, having a friend over, or playing with the neighbors.  Perhaps you could have some regular activities planned during the week.  For example, on Wednesdays we go to the pool with the kids next door.  At night, follow a similar routine to the morning with a scheduled bed time and bed time routine – brush teeth, put on pajamas, read a book before bed, etc.  The hope is that implementing structure will simplify your life so that your child can do many things independently or with some reminders, and also know that bed time, means bed time.  When school starts, the transition back to a full school day will be easier because your child has already been following a routine all summer.

For the parent of the adolescent:

While adolescence is a very exciting time, it can also be a very scary time.  The influence of friends is increasing as well as the level of independence.  As a parent, it is difficult to find balance between allowing the needed and expected freedom and continuing to hold your child accountable and know where they are and with whom.  Similar to the elementary parent, implementing some type of morning and evening structure allows you to set boundaries with sleeping in, and going to bed at night, as well as letting your child know that “free time” does not mean that he or she does not have any responsibilities or expectations.  Scheduling summer camps (sports or other), having some type of summer job (this can be as simple as mowing the lawn for the neighbors), or any other type of scheduled events are helpful in eliminating free time when your child can get into trouble.  The ultimate goal is for your child to enjoy some new freedoms, while continuing to follow the rules and expectations of the house.  Similar to the elementary parent, summer structure can help make the transition back to school easier.

As mentioned, your kids are excited and ready for summer and all that it has to offer.  Just remember it is possible to maintain some structure and balance throughout the summer months.  Structure will help make the transition to “free time” and then back to school in August smoother, as well as allow you to set some expectations with your children.  Good luck and enjoy the warm weather!

Meagan Witt, LCSW, is a counselor at Stenzel Clinical Services as well as a social worker at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois.