Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Jessica has years of experience working in a variety of settings supporting individuals, families, and children. She has experience working with anxiety, anger management, depression, relational and attachment issues, child and adolescent behavioral issues, and trauma.

For parents the wonderful aspiration of a memorable summer break often turns into the harsh reality of coordinating multiple events and schedules on top of all of our other responsibilities. It can feel like a whirlwind in which we are simply trying to keep up or too exhausted to actually enjoy.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.

Summer Break is here! Or, rather, it has been here for a couple of months already due to COVID-19. Normally, we picture summer to include fun in the sun, ball games, water fun, camping, and possibly, dare I say it…a vacation. Regarding the last one on the list, have you ever felt like you needed a vacation to recover from your vacation? You are not alone.

For parents the wonderful aspiration of a memorable summer break often turns into the harsh reality of coordinating multiple events and schedules on top of all of our other responsibilities. It can feel like a whirlwind in which we are simply trying to keep up or too exhausted to actually enjoy. This summer, you may be at a loss for what to do to keep your family busy due to all of the cancellations brought on by the pandemic.

Here, we will walk through a few things to help ease the stresses of summer…so maybe, just maybe, you may get some much deserved R&R. It should be your summer too, after all.

Make a Schedule.

It’s important to have a plan. Think about it, why do you think schools use a structured routine? This isn’t just for the sanity of the teachers, but for the children (and yes the sanity of teachers). People need a sense of structure and consistency in the day. This is the first step in setting up our children and our selves to be successful. This does mean we need to have a bit of a jump-start and a plan to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

A schedule simply means letting children know what to expect and when. This doesn’t need to be a schedule minute by minute, but rather an order of events with a somewhat flexible time frame. Because, lets be real, there are days when the most organized plans go right out the window.

When making schedules, use visual charts with pictures for younger children and break the day down into morning, afternoon, and evening. You can also do more of a now and next schedule. For example: “Now we are going to get dressed next we will brush teeth.” Within these schedules, parents can offer limited choices that can decrease power struggles and meltdowns. For example a limited choice would be the following: “You can wear these pants or these shorts,” or for breakfast, “You can have cereal or oatmeal.”

Children Choose but Parents are In Charge.

If children can’t decide parent can make decision for them. Remember, parents are in charge! Allowing too many options for children to decide from sets the tone that children are the decision makers, meaning they believe and will act as though they are in charge.

Parents may believe by allowing their child to choose they are avoiding these struggles. However, it is the parent’s job to help and guide children not overwhelm them or send message parent isn’t able to make decisions or take charge. By the same token, it is also important for children to have some sense of control, independence, and a voice. Hence, limited choices.

When creating schedules for older children you may have to explore to figure out what works. Some families prefer use of white boards or paper calendars assigning different colors to different members. Others may be more tech savy and can utilize electronic calendars that sync to one another or use of mobile devices. What is most important is that there is communication between family members. There should be a good balance between activities with friends, quality family time, screens, downtime, and responsibilities (around home or work).

Don’t Over Schedule.

Parents can get overwhelmed with the idea of schedules. Often, they make an assumption that a schedule means the day needs to be busy and full of fun events that are focused on child enjoyment. This just isn’t so. In fact kiddos need some downtime too. Over-scheduling can make for disaster… for both the child and parents.

Summer Fun Doesn’t Have to be Expensive.

Another thing I often hear is that “activities cost money.” Parents don’t have to break the bank just to make sure their child has a fun summer. This summer, in particular, choices are limited and it may seem like an even bigger struggle to “entertain” children.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to have fun that simply involve quality time together:

  • Create your own story book or comic strip
  • Have a water fight (use cups or balloons)
  • Collect things on a walk and make a picture with them
  • Paint rocks
  • Sing songs together
  • Mirroring activities in which children copy you (silly faces, Simon Says, etc.)
  • Play a board game or create your own
  • Coloring pages
  • Bubbles
  • Build a fort
  • Cook or bake something together

Are you looking for something with more direction or interaction with other humans? There are still lots of fun activities that you can do while still keeping your family safe. Scavenger hunts are a great way to get out and explore…and see other people that don’t live in your home. Make a scavenger hunt list of items you can find in your community. Then, hop in the car and compete with another family to see who can find the most items on the list.

There are also app guided scavenger hunts that can take you on a tour of your community or one nearby. The guided scavenger hunts do carry a small fee, but could be totally worth it to get out and about. Another option would be to go geocaching. Geocaching is free and can keep your family entertained for the entire day. Pack a picnic and get out and explore!

Enjoy your summer!

You have the ability to make this summer great, but great things typically do not just happen without some effort. Learn from the past. Set realistic expectations based on knowing yourself and your kiddos. Most importantly, enjoy…it is summer after all.

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