Memorial Day is here and we couldn’t be happier for the unofficial start of Chicago Summertime! The end of another school year is within sight. It’s a beautiful time of transition that awakens our city from its long hibernation and pumps some much needed excitement and optimism back into our lives.
While this is a welcomed and exciting change, family therapists know transitions can be emotional and tough for our school-aged children. Even though most of us associate the end of the school year with a sense of freedom and release, children often experience an internal emotional disorganization, and a loss of their sense of belonging and purpose, which is something that school provides. After the initial summer excitement has worn off, we may notice our children are complaining, agitated, bored and even anxious and depressed. So what can we do to help our kids stay mentally healthy over the summer?
Build Some Structure into their Days
Children feel a sense of safety when they know what to expect. It is not necessary to fill every time slot with an activity but have a few things planned that they can look forward to. Structure help all of us, especially children organize their internal world and emotions. If there is too much freedom they tend to feel chaotic and out of control, which creates anxiety.
Create a calendar that has their activities and plans listed
Build daily routines and rituals they can follow in the morning or nighttime. (i.e. wake-up, read for 30 min, make their bed, help with breakfast)
Create some consistency or constancy such as every Tuesday afternoon they have a phone-call with Grandma, or every other Saturday we go out for dinner and they pick the place.
Help Children Find a Sense of Belonging
School is a community that children feel a part of and a sense of belonging. It provides human contact and connection. Removing these connections can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Help them create a summer community, perhaps neighbors or a group of friends or camp that they can feel a part of.
Help validate your child’s feelings if they are having a hard time. Remind them that transitions can take some time to adjust even though it is positive.
Plan some family activities together.
Participate in small group activities, perhaps a library reading group, a sport league,
Help Connect to their Sense of Purpose
They might not always enjoy it, but things like reading assignments and reports give children a sense of purpose. Unstructured summer days can actually contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety since they are not feeling that sense of purpose or meaning. Children need to feel needed and that they matter and that their role in the world is important.
Children need chores. They need to know that they have an important role in the functioning of the household. Their being is essential for the whole family. They may complain and not like it, but it provides them the sense of purpose (they don’t realize it).
Don’t be afraid to let your child be bored. From boredom often comes creativity and imagination. Once they get through the initial boredom they realize they have created a wonderful game or activity and they feel purposeful and accomplished.
Help your child in doing charitable acts or volunteering. What better time to help out others less fortunate or the environment. This can really help children feel their sense of purpose and gratitude.
Balance Work and Play
Summertime is about being fun and playful. However, if it’s only play and fun, then play and fun isn’t that anymore. The important part to remember during summertime is to balance both work and play, structured and unstructured time, and time alone and in groups. This balance can help children sustain their mood and mental health through the whole summer.