Shifting Gears: Preparing for Summer's Start

I know for some of you, summer seems very far off. Schools tend to schedule a lot of activities this time of year; plays, concerts, field trips, honor roll assemblies, and end of year picnics. It can have that same feel that the winter holidays have. Too much to do and not enough time to do it.

For our kids, it can also feel a bit like a race to the finish. The expectation is that they will buckle down and focus on what needs to be done. All the while, the weather is getting nicer, the days are getting longer and it is harder to maintain that level of dedication. It’s understandable. As parents, we are also guilty of what my mother calls, “short-timer’s syndrome,” It’s the feeling that we are ready to move on to the next thing and get a bit lax about what is right in front of us. This not only applies to that last week of work before a vacation, but also the temptation to ignore things that are going on with our kids with the thought that school is almost over and summer will be a cure all. However, the transition from the structured busy that is school and extracurricular activities to the comparatively unstructured days and weeks of summer, definitely presents its own challenges.

So how can we, as parents, make the most of the time we get over the summer to stay connected while preparing our children for the road ahead?

1. Don’t Throw Structure Out the Window: Even with summer freedom from homework and studying, kids and teens still need structure, predictability, and SLEEP. Do your best to maintain your child’s basic routines.  Teenagers especially may want to stay up all night and sleep the day away.  Research suggests regular sleep hours are essential for proper growth and brain development.  For the younger child, set a bedtime and stick with it. Make sure your child has plenty of time to get ready for bed BEFORE bedtime. Some children need 45 minutes just to prepare for bed. Remember: You are in charge of making sure your child gets into bed and turns out the lights. After that, it’s up to your child to fall asleep.

2. Continue Your Family Dinners: Family dinners are vital ways to stay connected with your children. Research says that teens who regularly have meals with their family are more likely to have better academic performance and less likely to get involved with drugs or become depressed. Take advantage of the reduced number of extracurricular activities and make every effort to get together for family dinners.  The long day light hours offer outdoor opportunities like barbeques.

3. Unplug! It is so easy during the summer to whittle precious family time away on cell phones, laptops, and tablets; not just for kids but for parents too!  As you set limits on these activities, you may be in for a rough road of whining, complaining, and even yelling. Hang in there. It’s far easier to get looser with privileges as the summer unfolds then the other way around.  Use new found time to reconnect as a family.

4. Take Advantage of Communication Opportunities: Pick up on your child’s communication signals and go with their flow. If you have one of those children who “never talks to you,” pay attention when he/she wants to share with you. For example, if your teenager talks most when he’s trapped in the car with you, turn off the radio and listen. If bedtime opens up the lines of communication, get your child in bed a little early so that you can have time to talk.

5. Help Your Child Practice Social Skills: Summer is a perfect time to practice the social skills kids need to make a smooth transition to the new school year. Children learn best by modeling after you and through consistent practice.  Offer your child frequent opportunities to socialize with groups of children.  These social times offer him/her the opportunity to practice critical social skills.  If you feel that your modeling and practice efforts are not enough, you may want to consider a more formal social skills training program like we have at In Step.

We may not have control over the passage of time, but there are ways that we can go into this summer with a more relaxed style, creating an environment where your children can grow and flourish.