Whether your kids are young or on the verge of adulthood, summer is an… adjustment. Balancing structure and leisure time for younger kids or boundaries and freedom for college-aged kids is hard and can have a real impact on everyone’s mental health and wellbeing. Here’s our advice…
How is my kid doing? Are they lonely? Should I create structured educational time during the summer? Do they just need a break? How much is too much screen time? Should I send them to camp? Will they be safe?
Most parents of younger kids are not totally sure how their child is coping with Covid, the disrupted school year, masks, social anxiety, the list goes on… You are not alone if you aren’t sure of the best way to deal with summer this year.
Our short answer is: Try to balance a little bit of structure with a good amount of leisure time, and YES – send your kid to camp!
Summer is a time for kids to enjoy much needed rest and relaxation. It’s true, kids are overscheduled and expected to achieve so much all year, they deserve time to rest. This year, kids are dealing with additional stresses, so they may be extra inclined to stay home and do… well, nothing.
However, we know that kids thrive on structure–it helps their brains hold onto the cognitive abilities they gain during the school year. Setting them up with expectations for what time they need to get out of bed, how much time they are allowed to spend on screens, and setting up outdoor play, team sports, or other physical or educational activities is important.
For example, limit screen time to two hours per day, and require at least one hour of physical activity (ideally outside) each day. Set up a regular play date with a friend or get them involved in library or community-sponsored activities. Maintaining some consistency, such as a regular wake-up or dinner time, is also a helpful way to provide loose structure without feeling overly regimented.
The question of whether to send your kid to camp this summer is more complex than usual. Studies are showing that mental health issues are unusually high right now, with 44% of parents reporting signs of anxiety in their children from ages 2-11 with symptoms like more tantrums, more clinginess, difficulty sleeping, difficulty getting along with friends, nightmares, etc. If your child is dealing with these things, it is natural to be concerned about sending them away to camp.
The thing is – it could be just what they need. Check-in with yourself and ask, “am I the one that is anxious about sending them to camp?” Worries about whether he will fit in or if she’ll be upset at drop-off are valid and relevant concerns. Do your best to avoid placing your anxiety about summer camp onto them. If you spend too much time telling them that you’re ready to rescue them as soon as they feel homesick, it sends them a message that you think they can’t do it. Instead, help cultivate excitement by looking at camp websites or brochures together, collaborating to find a camp that emphasizes their interests and get excited with them!
Kids can feel homesick and happy at the same time. Help your kid curb their anxiety to be away during uncertainty by teaching them coping skills and mindfulness for loneliness or anxiety before they leave.. You can even do a trial run beforehand: send them away to grandma’s house for a few days, and don’t allow them to call or come home. When it’s over ask them how they felt and if they did anything that helped. Doing so fosters a sense of autonomy and helps them develop skills for self-care and self-awareness.
They leave the house as a child and come back as an adult… but also still your child. It’s a strange time and it’s normal to not be sure how to set boundaries, what kinds of rules need to be set in place, or how to share responsibilities around the house.
When kids leave home for an extended period of time (usually college), parents often find themselves creating a new normal: building healthy patterns, picking up forgotten or new hobbies, and reconnecting with relationships. With Covid as an additional factor, we can all agree that we have learned to be quite content home alone with less… um… noise.
Bringing everyone back together is exciting but it also disrupts this newfound peacefulness, changes newly set rhythms, and creates this confusing division of roles – who is cleaning up that? Should there be a curfew?
While it’s definitely important to set expectations for your college-aged kid to get a job or be productive, try to take a little time to allow them to simply rest. The past school year has been incredibly challenging for college students, with studies showing all-time highs for depression, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. During this resting time, offer them encouragement, emotional support, and comfort.
Once a few days have passed, it’s probably time to set some rules and boundaries. A good strategy for this would be to sit everyone down together and openly discuss what each of you expect or need from the other. Divide up household duties so everyone understands what they are responsible for. Ask them to take on things they didn’t handle before. (They’ve now successfully done their own laundry for months – why not keep that going?)
You may need to remind your adult child that while they are home for just a short time, they are not actually a guest and are expected to clean up, help out, and communicate with you. This is also a good time to let them know about any changes around the house you’d like them to respect and live with – maybe you keep certain foods in the house for yourself, there’s a room in the house you like to have kept particularly tidy, or you have switched around the kitchen cabinets. Communicating these changes can help you hold onto those new healthy patterns that you have gained.
Pursue the new relationship. Getting to know your child as an adult can be fun. Make time to reconnect however you are able to, ask them questions about their new life, and listen – really listen. Remember their friends’ names and ask specific questions. Then, even if they don’t ask you, turn it around and share what you’ve done and experienced while they were gone. Begin to invite them onto an equal playing field with you and model for them how the parent-child relationship can evolve, in good ways, as they begin to navigate adulthood.
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