Summer break is here and millions of children across the country have gone from having highly structured days that were scheduled down to the minute to nearly free schedules in just days.
This quick transition can be pretty enjoyable for kids who are excited to be free from the responsibilities of homework and class projects. However, that novelty wears off and the quick change from structured days to open ended days can have a whiplash effect on childrens’ mental health that can lead to learning loss, anxiety, and bad habits.
As adults we live highly structured lives whether it’s because of our work schedules, our weekend plans, or appointment television, we organize our lives around a schedule that gives us some semblance of consistency. Children need this predictability even more than we do and once it’s pulled out from under them it can lead to a lot of issues. Here are some ways parents can ensure that their children have a fun yet healthy summer this year.
Create a structured schedule at home during the summer for your child
From the literature, we’ve come to learn that routines are positive for the development of children, especially for younger children. Having a routine helps them go through life on a predictable rhythm where they come to expect how their days will go. From an early age routines help children develop relationships with the people around them and that consistent schedule helps them feel safe and secure due to the fact that they know what’s coming next.
Having unforeseen changes can erode a sense of safety in younger kids, but helping keep them on a schedule with appropriate chores can help a child become independent. Once they have a consistent routine it’ll take less of an effort to get them to wake up on time and brush their teeth. Children will take on the responsibility to manage themselves making things easier for parents and creating less conflict at home.
This routine approach also gives parents the ability to find a consistent check in time with their children so that they can develop their relationship with one another at an even deeper level. During the school year there’s not much time for parents and their children to connect so it’s important for parents to pick a time during the day where they check in with their children just so they can figure out what’s on their mind in case they’d like to talk.
Limit screen time and promote outdoor activities
Summer now coincides with more screen time for children due to the fact that they’re at home and can now access social media platforms which can be a problem when used too much. Parents should be aware of their child’s internet usages and talk to them about how they’re navigating these websites. Kids also can’t gauge what’s too much or too little screen time so it’s important to set limits for your child during the summer as to avoid issues such as anxiety and depression which have been linked to excessive uses of social media.
Social media platforms are designed to keep us engaged on our phone for more content due to the dopamine release our mind gives us. At such a young age dopamine might be overwhelming so it’s important to counteract that effect by embracing outdoor activities.
Although sports are a great way to get children outside, activities like hiking, gardening, and any sort of unstructured play that gets them in the sun and in nature is a positive use of their time. Try scheduling a playdate with a neighbor or friend to socialize the kids some more in person or help them stay in touch with their friends through video calls or social functions. Activities like camping, volunteering, and traveling are also great ways to unplug and embrace the world.
Physical activities might go by the wayside once school is out, but it’s important to keep your child active in the summer months as well as keeping them engaged intellectually.
Avoid summer slide by encouraging more educational activities
School structure is seen by experts as the last line of defense for student mental health and once that’s out of the way it’s important for parents to have an active hand in their child’s day to day activities to avoid summer slide. Summer slide is the concept that by being outside of a classroom for a long period of time, a child’s learning skills atrophy just like a muscle that hasn’t been exercised.
Younger children are more susceptible to summer slide due to the importance of those first few years in elementary school and students from low income backgrounds also have a disadvantage due to their lack of access to resources. Research shows that education gaps between students from differing socioeconomic backgrounds can be traced back to years of summer sliding not being addressed.
One of the best ways to counter summer slide is to let kids read whatever books they’d like this summer to get their enthusiasm up. Take them to your local library where you might find fun activities for them to do.
Engage in smart play which can be done in the form of working to solve a puzzle together or playing a math or vocabulary centered game with your child to maintain their brain’s highest form of functionality.
While you’re working to ensure your child has a structured life outside of their school setting, don’t forget to give yourselves some down time and flexibility to veer off of your schedules. Sleeping in on some days or staying up late occasionally isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can also give some relief to you and your child to avoid exhaustion and overstimulation.