During the busy school year, parents and kids dream about the freedom of summer. But structure and routine are important for mental health at every age. And without them, that long summer break can present challenges for the whole household.
When children are at home over the summer, parents and caretakers may feel pressure to keep them occupied, especially when the alternative is being glued to their devices or watching too much TV!
Parents may be used to having kids at home 24/7 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Having kids at home every day while you’re working or taking care of other responsibilities requires continuous multi-tasking. And this may take a toll on parents’ mental health.
Having a plan lets us feel more in control and reduces the stress of having to reinvent the wheel every day.
Take a Moment to Reset
If you’re a parent who has reached the end of your patience, Philadelphia psychologist Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., says “name what you’re feeling and find a place to pause rather than react.”
“Know that millions of parents are feeling the exact same way right now. Go back with a fresh perspective and tell your child, ‘We need to work together here. This is what needs to happen. Do you need my help or can you take it from here?’”
Having kids at home full-time is draining, and burnout is a serious condition, she says.
“It’s understandable to need a break to reset, and that’s probably not going to happen during a summer with kids at home.”
The key, according to Dr. Chansky, is to create units of activity to break up the day. The units could be academic work, a sports or recreational activity, a social gathering, doing chores to benefit the household, or relaxing with a book or TV show. It’s fine to put these in the same order every day or mix them up.
Collaborate on a Schedule of Activities
Where possible, give kids a choice of activities to plan their week. Have a family meeting a few days after school is out. Ask each family member what goals they have for the summer and what’s important to them. Collaboration is especially important for teens, who need to develop a sense of independence.
“Boredom is a transition experience. Knowing how to tolerate and navigate that transition is important in life,” Dr. Chansky says. Create a list of things the kids can do in between planned activities. Summer is a good time to organize family photos, write a story, or do things there hasn’t been time to do during the school year.
Although structure is important, she adds that it’s okay to slow the pace in summer after a stressful school year.
“All kids need some downtime, and summer is a great time for it.”
Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized psychologist, author, and speaker based in Philadelphia. She is the founder of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania; author of several books on anxiety, including Freeing Yourself from Anxiety; and creator of the educational website worrywisekids.org.
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.