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 Summer Break

By Ms. Rebecca Vacco-Giudice, LCSW

    As the school year draws to a close, you (and definitely your child) begin thinking about summer break and what these months hold. Whether you view it as a well-deserved reprieve or dread having to entertain bored children, it is best to be prepared. The shift from the school year to summer break, however welcome, represents a period of transition for children of all ages and may pose unique challenges if your child has learning or behavioral problems. Below are some tips to help make a smooth transition.
    Revamp, but don't eliminate, your child's daily routine. The daily routine of the school year provides all children, regardless of how much they complain about it, with a sense of structure and security. While certain tasks like doing homework can be dropped during the summer, new ones may be, and should be, added.
    Prepare. Mentally prepare your child for their new routine in advance, even if the summer routine changes week to week, by talking about what they can expect. For children who have a difficult time with new routines or unfamiliar people and places, you may want to do a little extra to prepare your child for his/her new scheduled activities. If possible, visit the locations where he/she will be during day camp or day care in advance. Have your child talk to counselors, caregivers, as well as other kids have enjoyed those same situations and settings.
    Get them involved. Have your child contribute to the family calendar. Together, you can determine dates of activities they want to participate in, holidays, and more. Have your child mark these on the calendar. Then, post the family's summer schedule in a central location for all to see. Involve your child when preparing for family trips and activities, depending on their age they can help with a variety of things, like making a list of things you will need for a trip.
    Don’t dread the “I’m bored” comment. Anticipate downtime and have a plan for those “I’m bored” moments. I suggest having an “inside jar” and an “outside jar” filled with popsicle sticks or pieces of paper with activities written on them to pick from when a child is having difficulty finding something to do. Even challenge yourself to be spontaneous. Keep a running list of places and people to visit when time permits and the mood strikes. Summer is a good time to stop by the science museum, bike trail, or visit with friends or family members you can't seem to get to during the school year.
    Working through sibling conflict. One of the best parts of the school year, but often underappreciated, is the freedom it gives your child to express themselves in a different setting. As a student, friend, and classmate, their role is different. School is their space where they don’t have to share or compete with siblings. During summer break, they are missing this outlet and are often spending every waking moment with their siblings so there is bound to be some conflicts. While you want to encourage sibling and family bonding, it is also important to give them time away from one another. You want to create and respect appropriate boundaries based on their development (for example, while an older sibling may be expected to babysit younger siblings during the day, it is important to give them time to themselves in the evening). Give siblings an opportunity to work problems out on their own, but do not ignore harmful sibling conflict. While time is often tight, it is important to try to find one-on-one time with each of your children individually.
    Encourage summertime learning. Summer outings and downtime may present opportunities for your child to learn about subjects such as history and nature. You can incorporate reading and math lessons and skills with a creative, more fun approach than the school year often allows. Look for "teachable moments" and encourage your child to listen, take photographs, collect items, or keep a journal of their adventures. This type of learning can boost the self-esteem of any child, but may be especially beneficial for a child who struggles in school.
    Enjoy it. Try not to succumb to summertime stress. Enjoy these moments with your family. The best laid plans often go awry. Do your best to laugh them off and move on.

Special Considerations for Parents of Teenagers:
    Summer break brings up some key issues related specifically to teenagers and their freedom, and parents often question whether they are being too lenient or too strict. The best you can do is anticipate some of these issues and have your decisions made in advance. It is best to talk to your child about expectations, privileges, and consequences before they ask you a spur of the moment, “Can I stay out until 1:00am tonight?” When everyone is on the same page beforehand, it saves a lot of arguments and in the moment punishments.
    Topics to discuss with your spouse or co-parent and address with your child in advance should include privileges, expectations, and consequences when expectations are not met. Privileges should include things such as driving, curfew, time spent with friends, social media, allowance, and more. All expectations of your teen should be discussed as teens often say “I did not know I was supposed to do that.” Expectations can include rules that need to be followed, chores that need to be done, etc. There should be clear and consistent consequences for when expectations are not met, and they should reflect the removal of privileges with instruction on how they will be earned back.

 

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