Ahhhh….summer. It sounds amazing.
Lots of time outside; the kids all splashing happily in whatever water-filled container you have.
Lots of unscheduled time, with no particular places to be or things to do.
Your kids get to just be kids for a while.
But here’s what’s also part of summer:
The crying and whining.
The endless repetitions of “I’m booooooored…” interspersed with refusals to help around the house.
And your triggered feelings.
What Happens When You Have a Big Reaction to Your Kid’s Feelings
When your kids don’t cooperate (which happens a lot when you’re together a lot), you probably go into one of four ‘modes’:
1. Fight Mode: You get combative! Your child might as well be an attacking bear that you’re fighting for your life. You will dominate them…through words (you can probably out-logic them), through your physical presence (towering over them) and/or through swatting or spanking them.
2. Flight Mode: You’ve got to get out of here! Your child might as well be an attacking bear that you’re running away from, and quickly. You check out mentally, or you physically leave the room—and when your child follows you it makes everything ten times worse.
3. Freeze Mode: The bear’s attacking, and you can’t figure out what to do. You’re mentally and physically frozen: should you counterattack? Should you run and hide? It is simply not possible for you to make a decision—about anything—in this moment.
4. Fawn Mode: Most common among people who have experienced abuse, this involves getting the difficult behavior to stop at all costs. You placate the child; reassure them; say they can have the thing they want…anything to make the crying/screaming/whining stop.
It doesn’t seem like any of these things should be part of any parent’s summer plans…and yet, here they are.
Summer isn’t over yet.
Are you gonna make it?
Here are 5 tips to help you not just survive but actually enjoy the time you’re spending with your kids this summer:
1. Don’t Multitask.
Whenever your attention is split, there’s a good chance you’re going to get frustrated. Have designated times to play with your kids—and put the phone away. Focus on nothing but being with them. At other times, tell them you’re not available now but you will be in 30 minutes/after lunch/when the timer goes off.
2. Slow Down & Simplify.
Do you need to go to every birthday party? Must you take something home-made to every gathering, or would a bowl of cherries be just as welcome? Could you eat take-out one more night a week, or cook twice as much on the nights you do cook, and eat leftovers every other night? Can you plan just a little further ahead so you don’t have to go shopping as often? The more you can slow down and simplify, the less overall stress you’ll feel, which will leave more gas in the tank to deal with the children’s meltdowns.
3. Be Realistic about What Your Child Can Do.
We hear a lot about having ‘developmentally appropriate’ expectations, but many parents expect their child to be able to do way more than they really can. A survey by respected organization Zero to Three found that over half of parents think that children under three can reliably resist the desire to do something forbidden, when actually this starts to develop between age 3.5-4. And 42% of parents think that children should be able to control their emotions—like not having a tantrum when they’re frustrated—by age 2, when again this develops between the ages of 3.4-4. If you’re expecting too much too soon, you’ll get frustrated when they can’t meet your expectations.
4. Embrace the Drop-off (Outdoor) Playdate.
If you have any access to the outdoors, and there are other families in your ‘pod,’ take turns hosting outdoor playdates. If you have a garden, the other child could bring a lunch and then you just turf them outdoors for the day—they can collect rocks, make ‘houses’ for imaginary friends; build things out of cardboard…Even traditionally indoor-based toys like LEGO and Magnatiles that they’re bored with using indoors can be fun again outdoors. Chances are having another child around will actually keep yours occupied for longer…and then your child goes to the friend’s house another time, giving you several hours off. Even if you go to the playground or park instead of your house, you could work for the life of your laptop battery, or hang out with a book. Win win!
5. Pay Attention to What’s Going on in Your Body.
In our culture we have an idea that everything worth paying attention to happens in our brains. But very often our bodies tell us when something’s up—like when we’re getting resentful because our child has been asking us to do things for them all day. We might feel a tightness in our shoulders, heat across our chest, nausea, or a headache long before we yell at our child, walk away from them, freeze, or fawn. We can learn to pay attention to these signals and act on them early in the day rather than letting the frustration build until we explode.
Navigating kids’ big feelings is challenging for every parent. It can be doubly challenging when you can’t stay calm yourself in these moments, perhaps partly because you are remembering difficult events from your childhood. But just because you’ve responded with frustration up to now doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. You might think that your child needs to change their behavior but none of the ideas here involve doing that. When you change the way you show up with them, they most likely won’t do as much of the behavior you find so difficult.
And so you will make it through the summer.