Every child has different needs in terms of structure and schedule. Some kids truly need a lot and some kids truly don't. Where your child or children fall on this spectrum will vary, of course -- and the structural needs of one child may even be in conflict with another of your children. True, this can make for some angst in scheduling by you up front, but making the effort may head off stress later and make for a more enjoyable summer.
Too little structure
While summer is traditionally a time of freedom from routine, tossing all routine out the window would be a mistake. Routine sets up expectation on a subconscious as well as conscious level and too little routine can set up the family for extra stress. Bedtime, for example, doesn't need to be as strictly followed when school is out -- but having a general routine for bed, and not too late, either -- can help keep the household running smoothly. Chores, and regular activities also don't need to be as rigid, but the house does need to be tidied up and the library would miss your smiling faces.
Kids who don't have enough to do might get into a little more mischief. Sure, some kids will take an unstructured day stretched out ahead of them and make the most of it with an art project or reading in the hammock or some other benign activity -- but there are plenty who will veer into a bad judgment call or two given too much unstructured time. And kids aren't exactly known for their excellent decision making! The hole in dad's garden seemed like such a good idea.
Some kids react to lack of structure by getting a bit cranky. Or a lot cranky. And lashing out a bit. It may confuse you -- you thought it was a great idea to give your child a fully "free" summer, but then she lashes out at something insignificant or with no apparent provocation. Where'd that come from? Boredom is an emotion and needs to be channeled into a little more structure.
Another sign your child might need more to do is when he or she sticks to you like white on rice, like a barnacle, and your child has long since left toddlerhood. Always at your side doesn't sound so bad -- you live the little cutie, to be sure! -- but every single moment of the day your child is right there, clung to you like a parasite. You can't even pee without your not-so-little child trying to get in there next to you. Their toys have lost appeal, and even the TV is boring them, so they attach to you. Yes, you child needs more structure.
The solution is fun
If you realize under-scheduling is your issue this summer, what do you do -- without the pendulum swinging the other direction entirely to over-scheduling?
- Start simple: Organize a weekly play date, or set Friday as library day.
- Add one thing at a time: Contact your local recreation department about last minute openings in programs. Look in the paper for events and plan some day trips. Go slow in what you add to the summer schedule.
- Evaluate after each addition: Does this feel like enough? Too much? Are the same under-scheduling symptoms there? If it feels like just enough, stop there and give it try for a while.
- Pull back if you've gone too far: If it suddenly feels like you're child is too busy, pull back. The toys and TV may have infinitely more appeal now.
Finding the balance in the family schedule is tricky no matter what time of year it is. In the summer, you may have the urge to do nothing at all, but that may not be the right approach for your child. Summer is your child's downtime from the busy school schedule, and you don't want to over-schedule it -- or under-schedule it -- for the sake of the whole family!
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