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Summer Fun & Summer.... Anxiety?

June 22, 2024

by Melanie Froemke, LCSW, RPT-S, e-RYT200

Ahhhh, summer! The time we all look forward to. School is out, more time to relax, travel, be together.... it's normal to come into summer with expectations that everything is going to be great... until it's not. Undeniably, some kids do better with structure, which can make summer a surprisingly difficult time. I just had an older teen in my office this week who has a great deal of self-awareness. Even though this teen was looking forward to time with friends, the ability to make money with a summer job, and time to sleep in- they recognized that they do better with structure. They lamented that even though they don't want to be in school, they do & feel better with a schedule, with consistent social engagement, with a direction and focus. What can that tell us about how to handle summer?

As parents, it's difficult to find that balance between structure and open time. What do our kids need, and how can we meet those needs without constantly butting heads and damaging our relationship with our kids?

Movement. We all need some form of physical activity to take care of our bodies! For younger kids, we can help direct them and take them out on family hikes, sign them up for classes or camps, or head out on a bike ride. As kids get older, it's important for them to be a part of the decision-making process, and to understand why moving our bodies is important! Simply put, our brains work better when our bodies move; developing the hippocampus through movement is essential to help develop the pre-frontal cortex (i.e. the movement control part of our brain affects the executive functioning part of our brain!). With that said, adolescents and teens need to feel that they have input! Leave the "exactly what" up to them. Give them the control to decide, but make it a family expectation, yourselves included as parents, that everyone moves their body every day. 

Acknowledging our kids' importance by involving them in the conversation. Make your kids, no matter what age, a part of the planning process. Even if your family has decided on vacation plans or summer activities, let them in on what’s happening. This can decrease anxiety, as well as help them to feel empowered that they simply know what’s going on. If this is a challenge for your busy family, consider having an informal family meeting, or asking if they have questions with what’s happening over the next week or day at family mealtimes.

Family mealtimes can feel like even more of an important part of our busy lives when other schedules are disrupted over summer. Kids need consistency, and if the rest of their days and weeks are turned on their head, family mealtimes can provide the time to touch base, to connect, and to create a healthy environment and relationship with food! How does your family do this? Can we make mealtime screen free?

Screen time is a tough one! As a parent, navigating passwords, limiting access to unsafe material, and limiting screen time can feel like another full-time job. Screen time isn't going anywhere, and we can leverage the positive aspects of screen time - educational activities, connecting with friends and family, and creative pursuits. Connection may open up areas of interest for our kids over summer- Acknowledging and balancing screen time with other activities over summer is essential to making summer feel successful versus a drain on everyone involved. Having a conversation with your preteen or teen about how they feel when they're on screens is important! Social media is now recognized as having negative effects on our well-being and can be the source of cyber bullying. All this to say- know what your kids are looking at. Resources such as Common Sense Media and other parenting resources can help to learn how to input time restrictions and screen limits.

Summer can be an incredible opportunity to spend time together. Decreasing expectations, increasing communication, and enjoying the present- including one-on-one time with our children can serve as an incredible well of resource for our kids. Research shows us that 8 minutes per day with neurotypical kids, and 15 minutes, 3 times per day with our neurodivergent kids can make a big difference in our kids' moods, our relationship, and how smoothly our days and transitions go!

We can also acknowledge our limits, increase our own self-care, and know when to seek help! If our summer is causing increased stress and we're not able to shift out of what feels like chaos and difficulty in our days and our relationships, it may be time to get help. Therapy can be incredibly helpful for us as parents and for our kids. Don't hesitate to reach out today.

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