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Stress Busting Solutions for Parents: Strategies for a Successful Summer Break

During the school year, most families are immersed in routine and structure.  Days are scheduled to the hilt with activities or sports while parents try to figure out how to find project supplies and fit in teacher conferences or IEP meetings.  Ready or not, school is out, and kids are home for the summer.  Warmer weather is here, and it’s the season where these duties and routines seem to melt away in the summer sun.

For some parents, it’s a highly anticipated and much welcomed development as they look forward to more carefree summer days.  For others, it can evoke anxiety.  Worries about kids being bored, siblings getting along, and/or finding camps or child care can be typical concerns. For many parents, it will be a mix of feeling eager to let go of the daily school day regimen but nervous or even dreading how everyone will adjust to these changes.  It may help for parents to try some of the following summer success strategies.

Expect an adjustment period for both parents and kids.  Be prepared for kids to have mixed emotions about this transition as well.  Good change is still change, which all kids struggle with to some extent.  Children’s behavior may initally be less than top-notch, so try to set the bar realistically.  Recognize what went well at the end of each day, especially during the first couple of weeks.

Hold family meetings.  Family meetings can provide an opportunity for kids to share their feelings.  Kids also love having input into making summer plans.  Making an effort to incorporate all family members’ ideas in the event planning helps kids feel more valued and learn how to compromise.

Adjust routines.  The morning rush out the door may be over for some, but that doesn’t mean all the effort that went into establishing those hard-won routines should go down the drain.  For example, bed times may be adjusted for older kids or to allow kids to get together with a friend from school, watch a movie, or go on an outing. However, if parents discard routines all together they may face a lot of difficulties in September when school is back in session.

Take regular breaks throughout the day. Parents are human too and need to prioritize their own self-care.  It would be helpful for parents to notice when they start feeling overwhelmed and hit the pause button.  It takes only a few minutes to breathe deeply, step outside, take in nature, or meditate.  These are practical and simple strategies that can be incorporated even on the most hectic day.

Find support. Encourage kids to call their friends to make arrangements or reach out to other parents to schedule a playdate.  However, it’s not only important for kids to maintain friendships throughout the summer but also for parents to do the same. Don’t forget to connect with other parents who can empathize and validate how challenging parenting can be.  A good support system and avoiding negative people will help avoid burnout.

Try not to over schedule.  Camps and other structured activities are important in planning the summer, but kids also need down time. Children benefit from learning how to cope with feeling bored and finding ways to entertain themselves. Free time to play fosters imagination and initiative and helps kids figure out what they like to do.  When a child struggles with this, show encouragement by pointing him/her in the right direction, reminding him/her of some options, or even involving him/her in your activity.  When kids are successful with this, let them know they did a great job.  A general guideline could be planning one activity per day and a special outing every once in a while.  Remember that it’s okay to say no.  It’s not mandatory to attend every summer barbecue or sign up to volunteer at every event.

Parents can find themselves in comparisons with other families this summer. Keep in mind that all families have different preferences, needs, and resources, both financially and emotionally.  Remember that other people’s social media posts are predominantly highlight reels and not reality.  The bottom line is that even on a day full of blunders and missteps, parents are doing the best that they can do.

All parents just want their kids to have fun this summer and create long lasting memories. Depending on their age, kids may not remember every activity or event during the summer but they will remember how they felt.  Children will remember the warmth and responsiveness shown by their parents.  Children will not forget when parents tried to understand their problems, actively listened, or showed them affection.  These moments make a lasting impression on kids, so creating these connections will not only make this summer more enjoyable but enhance kids’ well-being in the long run.

Dawn Grochowiak is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 13 years of experience in the mental health field. She currently works as a psychotherapist at Penn Foundation, providing individual and family therapy to children and adolescents.  Dawn enjoys working from a strengths-based perspective.