Your kids might be on summer break but their brains aren’t, they’re still growing. It’s important to anticipate and plan for the summer since the window to influence as well as boost your child’s brain development tappers off as they approach adulthood. Just like your grocery cart might have summer essentials like bug spray, sunscreen, band-aids and popsicles, think about what your kids need to stay mentally healthy and growing throughout the summer.
Here are some suggestions:
- Routine: Kids are on a tight schedule during the school year, both at home and school. Parents assume that a break from any routine would benefit their children. However a consistent routine allows children to feel safe as well as thrive. A daily rhythm can also help reduce meltdowns and discipline issues. Create and post a summer activity calendar to help kids anticipate special times like vacations and day trips. Theme each day of the week–i.e. Sundays-church and community, Wednesdays -picnic or pool, Fridays –friends and family, etc. to help kids remember, create excitement and reduce anxiety from the unknown.
- Community: A sense of belonging can boost mental health. Schools give kids of all ages a major source of belonging, even for those that might not feel close to anyone. When summer break for the summer, many kids lose their network of community. Kids experience a void in social interaction and some might feel lonely. Give your children a safe space to express their feelings and don’t try to reason with them, just listen as they express their feelings. Kids need regular peer connections so allow your children to plan play dates with their friends. Do things as a family and plan on giving your children your full attention at that time.
- Purpose: I love acknowledging eager kids who open the door for me at the store – their faces light up when I thank them. We’re born to discover and fulfill our sense of purpose. I spend more time counseling college and high school aged kids during the summer, than usual. Not only do they experience a loss of routine and community but also a loss of purpose. This can lead to depression and feelings of anxiety. While in school extra curricular activities, clubs, sports and even homework give children a strong sense of purpose. Their developing brain needs repeated, purpose driven experiences throughout the day to keep them mentally healthy as well as establish healthy future habits. Besides doing household chores, help older children find volunteer opportunities at your church, library, vet, day camps, etc. Check to see if your neighbors need their dog walked or yard cut. For little ones plan tasks like organizing toys, (even if you have to un-organize them first) matching socks, setting the table, etc. When the task is completed, celebrate with them! You can also give your children a sense of ownership and purpose by asking them to help you brainstorm, plan and execute activities they want to do.
Fun: If you want to speak your child’s love language, learn to have fun and live in the moment. Kids are born to have fun. It’s how they learn and discover their world. For most adults, ‘fun’ is work. When parents have fun with their children, you show them that you not only love them but that you ‘like’ them. When you have fun together, you build ‘relational credit’ for the future. Having fun with your preschooler might mean slowing down to participate in things that evoke their sense of wonder. They think like an ‘artist’ and love engaging in activities that activate their senses. Lay down in the grass with your child to gaze at the clouds and stars, walk in the rain, chase bubbles, draw with sidewalk chalk, cuddle, laugh and get messy together! Elementary-age kids think like a scientist and thrive when their interests are engaged. Experience different activities together to discover their interest. Go on bike rides, visit museums, start a large puzzle, sing, dance, role-play and watch movies that inspire them to win at every-day life.Summers present great opportunities to build life-time memories together as a family, but it can also be a season filled with busyness and arguments. Slow down to affirm and hug your children everyday. Words of affirmation have the power to give life while hugs have the power to heal, forgive and convey love, all of which are fertilizer for the brain.