June Parent: “Wait until we get through the end of the school year, then there will be less stress.”
August Parent: “Wait until school gets started and there is more structure, then there will be less stress.”
Who is correct? If you answered “both”, you are very correct! The academic, social and extracurricular strains of school and the lack of structure and responsibility to academics each bring their own set of struggles and stresses for parents and adolescents alike. The balance in finding summer activities, jobs and responsibilities that allow for summer freedom and structure is a tricky equation for families to achieve, sometimes having to vary that balance for each child or adolescent. Here is a quick guide to help families striving to find that balance….
1. Summer is a great time to pursue an interest. As parents, we spend so much time trying to help our kiddos be happy and accomplished. There is a vast body of evidence that learning something new and rewarding is one of the prime ways to help support interests and enhance joy. Has your child always wanted to try acting? Had some untapped potential on dad’s guitar? Wanted to try their hand at surfing? Seems to have a green thumb but hasn’t tried gardening? You get the idea. It is a wonderful opportunity to allow kids to choose their own interest and support it through a camp, formal instruction, or school. Often, community colleges, local non-profits, town recreation departments or a google search can identify some inexpensive choices to pursue an interest or hone a talent.
2. Summer is a nice time to add some family structure. How many times do we fall into the trap of wanting more time to spend as a family but not being able to prioritize it because of our jobs, homework, extracurricular activities, etc.. Summer can be a great time to pick a couple of nights a week and have some low key fun that is also family oriented. Wednesday picnics at the park, Friday dinner and a movie nights, Sunday BBQ fests or Tuesday trips to a beach for din-din can be great ways to have a less structured meal and add some family time to schedule that often cannot accommodate it during the school year.
3. Take time to give time. Volunteering has a great way of benefiting the recipient as much as the provider. Even a one or two day a week volunteer position can help add some much needed structure while getting the added benefit of helping others and yourself. It can look great on college applications and center around an area of interest. Local non-profits are always looking for volunteers…..
4. Project your projects for summer fun and added structure. Always wanted to organize the junk drawer? Clean the shed? Start that garden where the weeds have taken over? Bettering our living environment can often benefit our stress levels and mental health. Working on a single project once a week can get a lot of those random tasks that “we will get to some day” completed today. By starting a calendar and having a weekly project to complete, we can add to our sense of achievement and togetherness.
5. The season of self discovery. While summer feels like the antithesis of January 1st, it can often provide a time where we can actually do those new year’s resolutions that were dismissed on January 12th. By adding a task that betters ourselves, it can be productive too. Want to eat healthier? Make a weekly meal structure that can be easier to maintain in July than January. Want to increase our appreciation for others? Start a gratitude journal. Need to increase our awareness and attention? A 20 minute mindfulness practice can decrease our reactivity in just 2 weeks.
Let’s get started! Printing out a blank summer calendar and filling it with fun and structured things to do can add structure and achievement to summer vacation. It is just as important to schedule relaxing time as it is work, volunteer and chore time and putting in a calendar increases the likelihood that we will actually complete those tasks.