Font courtesy Graphics from the Pond
If your summer is a little less flip flops and a little more "flip outs," summer might not be all it's cracked up to be. Here are five tips for curbing the behavioral summer slide.
1. Structure, Routine, and Balance
Unstructured downtime is one of the most common antecedents to negative behavior. Routine and structure are key to reducing and preventing behavioral episodes. When you climb into a little one's brain, you'll find that summer is a natural upset of routines; all school year, we woke up at a specific time, got dressed, ate breakfast, brushed our teeth, and got on the bus, and then we would get to school, have homeroom, math, music, break, lunch, reading, recess, writing, phys ed, science, snack, social studies, go home, do homework, watch TV, play, take a bath, and go to bed. There was structure, routine, and predictability. We could make a list or a picture schedule to fill up an entire day.
It's hard to give our kids structure and routine during the summer, but it can be done without us having to be on top of them 24/7. Set up routines that are rehearsed and practiced until you no longer even need to be present for them to happen. Let your child know that today we are going to start something new. This can be an informal, unwritten schedule orchestrated by you or a sitter, or it could be written on a dry erase board that the child can cross out or wipe off when finished, or with removable pieces of Velcro (with pictures of clocks or the activity) that the child can pull off when finished. If your child can't tell time, the dollar store handheld timer or even the timer on the stove or microwave could help.
A summer routine schedule might look something like this
Chore or responsibility #1 (e.g., a basic chore, cleaning, making his/her lunch, summer reading, handwriting practice, school work, anything paper/pencil, etc.)
Play time (alone or with friends)
Fun activity, or TV time
Often, kids have a tough time in school, because they are used to unstructured periods and lots of freedom, but when they get to school they are expected to follow schedules and carry out specific, structured responsibilities. Schedules teach kids to manage their time, end a preferred activity to begin a less preferred activity, and establish a sense of personal responsibility.
Conversely, don't over-schedule. Sometimes a schedule that is too jam-packed or overbooked is stressful. It's all about the balance. Summer should be a fun time to take it easy, have fun, and grow through play.
2. Quality Time
They say the keys to battling depression are having something to do, something or someone to love, and something to look forward to. Schedule time once a week to spend some quality time together with your children. This gives everybody something to look forward to doing together. These can be fun and inexpensive, like game night, an ice cream trip, bike riding, playing kickball, making s'mores, or going for a walk. This will give kids a time for positive attention and bonding.
I'm willing to bet that we've all heard our kids say, "I'm bored" during the summer. With your child, make a list of fun summer projects, and have them choose which one they want to try each day. You can make homemade play dough, build igloos out of sugar cubes, roll toilet paper rolls in glue and sand to make a giant sand castle, make a fort with sheets and old boxes, carve funny faces into apples with googly eyes and uncooked rice as teeth, dye and string noodle necklaces or art pieces, make smoothies or milkshakes, bake or cook something new (we love biscuits turned into pizzas), homemade board games, a rope tied to a tree for two-person double dutch, homemade books or CDs, etc. Check out Pinterest and spoonful.com for more ideas.
4. Check In
For some kids, sensory needs and the stress of the big change of summer can really take a toll. For kids who are constantly on the go, some time to check in is nice and settling. Take time to check in with your kids. Maybe it's eating breakfast or dinner together, or taking a drive. Just take time to talk with them and listen to them. You can troubleshoot problems and praise and reinforce specific positive behavior during this time. Plan a special day one-on-one with each of your kids. It's tough when you're so busy, but when you look back, these are the times you'll both remember.
5. "You" Time
Don't feel guilty when you take a little time for yourself. We typically feel like we have to give our kids 110%, and we can't do that if we're only feeling 50% there in our own minds. Take your own time to relax, regroup, and enjoy your time alone. This will help you get back to feeling your best, so you can give your best to your kids. It's healthy, and it's okay! Have a date night with your spouse, go to lunch with your girlfriends, or check out the spa solo. Whatever it is, do it, and enjoy it. You earned it!
What are some things that work well for you over the summer? Please share in the comments!