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Find a balance between entertaining bored kids and your sanity

I am a child and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

Summer break doesn't mean a free-for-all for the kids

Summer is often seen as the reward after a long school year filled with hard work. It's a time to unwind, unplug and loosen the structure of our lives, opting instead for some rest and relaxation. However, it can be hard for parents and families to relax while trying to fill all the open hours of the day. This paves the way for children to start arguing, getting bored, whining — or all three. I recall one parent recently saying to me, "We fantasize about summer all year long. Now it's here, and I'm counting the days until school starts! Is it September yet?"

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Other parents find themselves confused about whether to let their children spend hours on end using screens or to allow them to have later bedtimes. Another worried parent asked me, "Is it bad to structure their days a bit? Am I being too mean by restricting screens to two hours a day? Is it unfair to also make sure she reads for 20 minutes a day and talks to me about what she read? What about still having a set bedtime? Other parents that I know let their kids go to bed whenever they want, but that doesn't seem right to me. Help!"

These are all good questions and common ones too. In order to help you figure out how to blend summer fun with important and easy routines, here are some tips to make sure your summer is memorable and just the right amount of fun.

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Structure is a GOOD thing

We might romanticize summer as a time to throw away our planners and let the rising and setting of the sun guide our days, but having a little structure helps it be fun and enriching instead of endless. Try to have a few daily activities that are "set," such as:

  • Morning reading for 20 minutes
  • Family lunch
  • A short walk as a family or with the dog
  • Five minutes where everyone does a household chore (e.g., taking out the garbage, wiping down the countertops, making beds, putting away shoes/flip flops, etc.)

In between those structured activities, you can have open-ended chunks where everyone can do what he or she likes.

School is out for the summer, but rules are still in

While many rules are on hold for the summer (e.g., doing homework, studying for tests, wearing a school uniform), make sure the foundational ones are in effect year-round. Following rules is an important life lesson, and they are something to follow all the time, not just when school is in session. One parent recently said to me, "Children have a limited amount of summer vacations in their lives before the real world sets in." This is indeed true and important to think about when putting rules in place in your household. Good summer rules include having a bedtime (albeit maybe a little later as the sun sets later), cleaning up after oneself, brushing teeth/bathing and any other rule that is important in your family. Making sure your family still follows a framework will help your children know what is expected of them. Not to mention rules help parents manage their households and families. Additionally, being able to impose rules on children often makes parents feel proud of their parenting efforts, which is important and not to be forgotten.

Summer memories are what it's all about

This time of year often goes by in a flash, so it's important to have some pre-planned activities that are extra special and specific to the season. This means making sure to take trips to the local ice cream shop, heading to your favorite summer destination, catching fireflies, running through a sprinkler and other fun seasonal activities. Those times are often the ones that will be remembered in years to come.

One family I work with has made sure to have a family discussion about what everyone's favorite activities are. While each family member has different interests and preferences, it was nice for him or her to have a say in summer activities and trips. This not only makes everyone a happy camper (pun intended!) but it also encourages and teaches flexibility, patience and perspective-taking — essential social skills for all ages!

Have a fantastic summer filled with sunshine, laughter and great memories!

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