How are you feeling about the summer? Happy? Relaxed? Stressed? Nervous? Depending on the ages of your children and your work and family situation, you may be feeling any or all of those things. Summer can be great, but it also can be very stressful for parents.
One of the things that adds to our stress is the expectation we put on ourselves to create an “amazing summer” for our children. We tend to think that they need all sorts of activities and “experiences” during the summer – endless camps, teams, trips, lessons and outings. If we don’t have an activity planned for a certain day (or, heaven forbid, an entire week!) we tend to feel nervous and stressed, maybe even a little guilty.
And if they attend a day camp while we go to work, we feel guilty about that too, because we think we should be at home creating “amazing” summer experiences for them.
But is that really what they need during the summer, during the 10 or 12 weeks that should serve as a break from the pressures and busyness of the school year? Sure, those kinds of activities are fun, and we want to ensure that our children get to enjoy some of them. But when we try to create a summer that consists of one exciting experience after another, are we giving them what they need the most?
Maybe not. More than any previous generation, children today are scheduled and stimulated day in and day out. They run from one activity to another, and when they’re not running they’re planted in front of a screen.
They don’t have time to slow down, to think, to create, to relax – sometimes they don’t even have time to play. And they rarely have time to get bored, which was a summer staple when I was a kid. (Yes, I’m dating myself!)
Having time to think and create – and even to be a little bored – allows children to use their brains, to come up with new ideas, and to develop coping skills. It gives them a chance to relax, to chill out, and to enjoy time with friends and family. It lets them know that life isn’t about being “on the go” – or being entertained – every minute of every day.
If you’re worried that you don’t have enough planned for your children this summer, let go of some of that anxiety. Instead of trying to entertain them every waking hour, give them some time and space to relax, create, experiment and – yes – even figure out what to do when they’re bored.
Get out the books, art materials, blocks, Legos, board games and sports equipment (maybe not all at once!). Give them some ideas, help them get started, and then let them decide what to do. Give them an opportunity to figure some things out for themselves.
And give them time with you and your family. Plan low-key family activities, like hikes, picnics, soccer in the backyard, or swimming at a park. Honestly, I think that kids sometimes enjoy those activities more than an elaborate vacation or week at camp!
If you take a vacation, keep it low-key too. You don’t have to spend every day doing something “amazing.” On previous vacations, our kids often enjoyed swimming at the hotel pool or playing putt-putt as much as many of the “fun activities” we planned.
And remember that summer is for you too – not just for your kids. Take time to decide what you really want this summer, and take steps to slow down and make sure those things happen. If you do get away for a vacation, make sure it includes some rest, relaxation and fun for you and your spouse – not just endless activities for the kids.
Our kids need to have fun this summer, but it may not be the kind of fun that our competitive, social-media driven culture leads us to believe. Instead, they may need (and want) the kind of fun that allows them to slow down, relax, create, and spend some time with family.
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