So what's to stress about? Maybe plenty. "Children -- and parents -- often find transitions difficult, and the school-to-summer change removes many of the structures, routines, and expectations that children rely on," says Scott L. Barking, a psychologist in Brooklyn, New York, and father of three school-age children.
"Many parents go into summer with a wish and a hope, rather than a plan for what they want to accomplish," says Virginia Shiller, a psychologist in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Rewards for Kids! (Magination Press). "The end result can be a chaotic household with whining children who complain they're bored, argue with each other, and just generally get in Mom's hair." Here are ways to help your family slip into summer with a minimum of mayhem.
As Shiller says, a successful summer is a well-planned one.
- Let the kids have input when planning summer activities. Suggest outings such as picnic lunches and day-trips to the aquarium or museum to stoke your kids' imaginations, then ask them for their ideas.
- Keep them apprised of camp dates, daycare, family trips, and other plans by giving them a detailed calendar. This helps them visualize what's ahead and how to prepare.
- Set up regular play dates now before vacation schedules make it tough to reach friends, says Jen Singer of Kinnelon, New Jersey, creator of the Web site MommaSaid.net.
All children benefit from clear expectations and some structure during the summer months, says Barking, CEO of the Block Institute, a nonprofit agency that serves developmentally delayed children and adults.
- Children need adequate sleep year-round for their development. Have set wake-up and bed times.
- Maintain regular meals too. Poor summer habits such as skipping breakfast or excessive snacking will come back to haunt your kids next school year.
- Establish daily routines, such as family game time after chores or morning walks for the dog.
- But don't overschedule. Children need downtime to explore, create, and relax.
Feed the Brain
Many children experience academic slippage during the summer, which can make it difficult for them to get back on track when school starts again, says Stacy DeBroff of Newton, Massachusetts, author of The Mom Book Goes to School: Insider Tips to Ensure Your Child Thrives in Elementary and Middle School (Free Press). Fight academic amnesia by keeping kids intellectually engaged throughout summer.
- Set aside a regular reading routine. Many libraries offer children's reading clubs with a theme, such as detective books or science fiction.
- Keep your children physically active by limiting video game, computer, and TV time. Take family bicycle rides or walks, play hopscotch, or shoot hoops.
- Maintain kids' writing skills by encouraging them to keep a journal of their summer experiences. "Above all, have fun together," says Barking. "All too soon it will be back-to-school time."
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, May 2006.