It’s fast approaching that time of year again- Summer Break. We picture fun in the sun, ball games, water fun, camping, and possibly, dare I say it…a vacation. For parents this wonderful aspiration often turns into the harsh reality of coordinating multiple events and schedules on top of all of our other responsibilities. It can feel like a whirlwind in which we are simply trying to keep up or too exhausted to actually enjoy. I would like to identify a few things to help ease the stresses of summer… so maybe, just maybe, you may get some much deserved R&R. It should be your summer too, after all.
First it’s important to have a plan. Think about it, why do you think schools use a structured routine? This isn’t just for the sanity of the teachers, but for the children (and yes the sanity of teachers). People need a sense of structure and consistency in the day. This is the first step in setting up our children and our selves to be successful. This does mean we need to have a bit of a jumpstart and a plan to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
A schedule simply means letting children know what to expect and when. This doesn’t need to be a schedule minute by minute, but rather an order of events with a somewhat flexible time frame. Cause lets be real, there are days when the most organized plans go right out the window.
When making schedules I suggest visual charts with pictures for younger children and breaking the day down into morning, afternoon, and evening. You can also do more of a now and next schedule. For example: “Now we are going to get dressed next we will brush teeth.” Within these schedules, parents can offer limited choices that can decrease power struggles and meltdowns. For example a limited choice would be the following: “You can wear these pants or these shorts,” or for breakfast, “You can have cereal or oatmeal.”
Children Choose but Parents are In Charge
If children can’t decide parent can make decision for them. Remember, parents are in charge! Allowing too many options for children to decide from sets the tone that children are the decision makers, meaning they believe and will act as though they are in charge. Parents may believe by allowing the child to choose they are avoiding these types of interactions. However, it is the parent’s job to help and guide children not overwhelm them or send message parent isn’t able to make decisions or take charge. By the same token, it is also important for children to have some sense of control, independence, and a voice. Hence, limited choices.
When creating schedules for older children you may have to explore to figure out what works. Some families prefer use of white boards or paper calendars assigning different colors to different members. Others may be more tech savy and can utilize electronic calendars that sync to one another or use of mobile devices. What is most important is that there is communication between family members. There should be a good balance between activities with friends, quality family time, screens, downtime, and responsibilities (around home or work).
Don't Over Schedule
It seems to me that parents get overwhelmed with the idea of schedules and often make an assumption that this means the day needs to be busy and full of fun events that are focused on child enjoyment. This just isn’t so. In fact kiddos need some downtime too. Over-scheduling can make for disaster… both child and parent alike.
Summer Fun Doesn't Have to be Expensive
Another thing I often hear is that “activities” cost money and parents can’t be breaking the bank just to make sure their child has a fun summer. There are lots of ways to have fun that simply involve quality time together:
Create your own story book or comic strip
Have a water fight- you can use cups, balloons, or squinters
Collect things on a walk and make a picture with them
Sing songs together
Mirroring activities in which children copy you- silly faces, Simon says, etc.
Play a board game or create your own
Bubbles- you can make several games from this like having children pop bubbles with different body parts or wait until they hear a silly word you say
Build a fort
Cook or bake something together
If you’re wanting something involving more social interaction or direction there are lots of free fun activities within the community. It is simply just a matter of knowing where and when these things are happening.
One such place to look for these activities and events in our area is at: http://www.gocedarrapids.com/ and click on the Free Things to Do tab you can also check out things on the Family Fun tab. There is also the Kid’s Dream Family Fun Series for movie goers. Admission is cheaper and runs from June 11-August 16, you can see more information at http://www.marcustheatres.com/ Another website that focuses on fun low cost events in the Cedar Rapids area and often has ideas about crafty projects can do as a family is https://cedarrapids.macaronikid.com/
You have the ability to make this summer great, but great things typically do not just happen without some effort. Learn from the past. Set realistic expectations based on knowing yourself and your kiddos. Also check back for more scheduling tips over the course of the month. Lastly, enjoy…it is summer after all.
About the Writer - Jessica Pladsen, LMFT
Jessica has years of experience working in a variety of settings supporting individuals, families, and children. She has experience working with anxiety, anger management, depression, relational and attachment issues, child and adolescent behavioral issues, and trauma. Jessica is currently working on becoming a Registered Play Therapist.
Jessica utilizes her educational experience and training in marital and family therapy, play therapy (Autplay), sandtray, and EMDR to support the desired change toward wellness and mental health. She takes an individual approach to fit unique strengths, goals, and circumstances.