What to do with these kiddos for the rest of summer…

So now that we’re several weeks in, the newness of sleeping in/lack of school induced schedule is beginning to wear off.  And with that comes the “I’m bored”, constant nit-picking and fights, etc.  Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones with children perfectly content all summer who get along wonderfully and all is fantastic.  But if you’re like the rest of us, pulling out our hair has begun.  It started in our house last week, and as a therapist who treats many parents I know that I am not alone.  So we begin to ask, what do we do to get through the rest of summer?  Maybe this is the wrong question…maybe it should look more like “What don’t we do?”

Summer is an opportunity to help our children develop strengths in ways other than what they do all school year.  Freedom paves the way for their little brains to strengthen their ability to problem-solve, think critically, make good decisions, bolster their imagination, and learn how to resolve conflicts.  While we are all going about this parenting gig with our best intentions, we can actually do damage if we do too much.  Here are some things that we should start to consider as we progress through the rest of summer break, things not to do…

Don’t Give them Screen Time

I’ve already touched on this in my previous blog, so I’ll be brief.  Don’t do it. I know it seems like such a good idea, to turn on the TV and you can go about your business knowing right where they are and what they’re doing.  But I’m telling ya, you’ll regret it!  Screens of any kind give them immediate gratification, instant and ever changing entertainment. They don’t have to think.  And it goes by so fast that they don’t really have time to process what they’ve seen.  Not to say you should completely ban all things electronic.  In our rapidly changing world, our children will need to be proficient in using these tools.  However, by limiting their use, not only do you give your kiddos the chance to use their brains in other ways, you are showing them how to use things like electronics responsibly.

Don’t Provide Constant Structure

Yes, I know “Kids need structure.”  Agreed.  But that doesn’t mean you need to schedule their summers away!  Basic structure is good to maintain throughout summertime.  For example, morning routines of making beds, breakfast, brushing their teeth; all good things to continue when school is out.  But should you have the day all planned out as if they were in school?  I say no.  What happens when kids never learn to plan their time effectively?  Well they grow up to be adults with poor time management.  Yeah, they can learn this somewhat at school- get assignments done in a timely manner etc.  But that doesn’t help when you have days and days wide open with things to do, but so many tempting things that sound way better.  Helping our youngsters learn to structure their own day helps them learn to prioritize needs versus wants.  So if you want to do something outside all afternoon and then go to the arcade with your buddy at night, you better have your chores done in the morning.  If we plan their day for them, they don’t learn.  In addition, if we fill their days with activities, they don’t have to use their imagination.  They look outside of themselves for direction and entertainment.  They don’t learn to make decisions and plan or to be creative.  Let them figure out their day.  Let them be bored.  Let them use their brains.

Don’t Fill Their Summer with Summer Camps/Sports

I’m starting with a disclaimer on this one… No I’m not opposed to summer camps or sports camps.

That being said, I do think they need to be limited.  As summer approached, I was asked by several parents what camps my boys were going to this summer.  And as the discussion progressed, I learned that several parents had their kids’ whole summers filled with camps and sports.  And I felt a little inadequate.  But then in my reading, I came across more and more articles that discussed the detriments of this.  And this counselor mom who does not treat kids, but continuously leans on my colleagues’ advice, experience, and research to help me raise mine, this made my constantly overanalyzing mind find some peace.  No, I am not hurting my kids by not keeping up with the Jones’.  In fact, quite the opposite.  As with the whole structure thing, if we keep our kids mind-numbingly busy and structured, we face the potential of wiping out their decision making and critical thinking skills.  Sure these camps all teach them things, and give them wonderful experiences.  But it leaves them with very little time to process and explore their world if their time is consumed by them.

Don’t Be Their Referee

I very clearly remember the great wars I had with my siblings.  I know we were not always the picture of sibling love.  This was especially true during the summer when I had to be around them 24/7.  And now I have witnessed this with my boys.  One thing I had pointed out to me (by my very wise dad) is that I am way too quick to jump in and break up the fight.  This reaction has led to me constantly having to step in, and this became exhausting.  They fight, I step in to break it up and give consequences, only for it to happen again for some other reason a few minutes later.  One day at my parent’s they went at it and I got up to break it up and my dad says, “No, let ‘em fight it out.”  And so I did.  And they did.  And they came to an agreement all on their own.  While it can irritate me to no end to hear them fighting all the time, if I can tolerate my distress, my kiddos learn an invaluable lesson: conflict resolution.  All too often I see adults in my office struggling with not knowing how to deal with conflicts.  It didn’t occur to me that by constantly being referee I was stripping my boys of the chance to learn this very important skill.

As I’ve been getting better at tolerating my own distress, my boys’ fighting has decreased.  They still fight, don’t get me wrong.  But the fights don’t last as long, or happen as frequently.  They don’t get to have the others punished by me with every single squeal, and I suspect that has helped decrease the conflicts as well.  So far this summer I have upped my game in not reacting to my distress and letting them “fight it out.” They have to figure it out, and that has made things much easier on all of us.

So in summary, let your kids be kids!  Let them be bored and figure out things on their own.  Oh, and after a few times of having to do some sort of housework when “I’m bored”, it’s a miracle how quickly they are no longer bored!  Let them fight their own battles, figure out how to compromise, and find peaceful solutions.  It’s amazing how nicely things go when they learn to entertain themselves and get along!

For more reading on these topics, check out some of these articles: