During the hectic pace of the school year, many of us parents long for summer. We work hard to keep life on track, and daydream of the long summer days where we can ease up on the structure the school year brings.
We imagine days at the beach with happy kids entertaining themselves for hours, so exhausted from the fun of the day that they practically put themselves to bed. Not a sound until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Sounds dreamy, right?
The sharp increase in calls I receive from parents just two weeks into summer points toward something different from the idyllic images in our mind. Reality is filled with sand everywhere, epic meltdowns over the scoop of ice cream that is too small and parents counting the days until school starts.
Where did it all go so wrong?
As school ends, it’s easy for established routines to get off track. We may start off enjoying the flexibility summer brings, but sooner or later, parents and kids alike are ready for the structure that routines bring to family life. When our routines go out the window, parents often see their kids push the limits and make mischief in an attempt to find out where the boundaries on behavior really are.
Instead of ditching routines altogether, why not pick the ones that really matter and focus on those? Here are my top recommended routines to establish or review as your family heads in to summer:
It may be lighter out, but children still need regular bedtimes. The more consistent you are on a regular basis, the easier it is to have a special late night while on vacation or on holidays. With young kids, be sure to plan ahead so you don’t end up with three late nights in a row — unless you are willing to calmly and respectfully deal with what may be a very grumpy kid the next day.
With older kids, discuss bedtimes and give some choice when possible. “Do you think lights out should be 8:15 or 8:30 p.m.?” “Do you need time to read or relax before lights out? If so, what time should you plan on heading to your room?”
Creating routines with your child, no matter their age, will be more effective than ones we dictate.
Meals and eating times
Messing with mealtimes can really wreak havoc on summer fun. Kids are used to a pretty consistent schedule of meals during the school year. For children up through fifth grade, that often includes breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack at school, after-school snack and dinner — all at a relatively consistent time each day. That is a lot of opportunities to eat! These frequent eating opportunities are important though; it helps young children maintain their energy level throughout the day.
It’s also important to remember that kids are not always skilled at noticing when they are hungry. We were reminded of just how important this is over spring break when our 6-year-old would go from losing it to laughter as soon as we got her some food.
Whether you’re enjoying lazy days at home or relaxing on vacation, try to offer young kids the opportunity to eat at regular intervals. Think about your child’s hunger needs and create a routine. If you have rules around what is available to snack on between meals, make sure they are communicated to your child in advance.
Develop new habits
Summer is a great time to put some routines in place around building new skills. If you have hopes of your child helping with laundry in the fall, why not begin now? If the plan is for your child to cook dinner one night a week next school year, how about starting in summer?
Skill-building takes time. We often give our kids new responsibilities without breaking them down into smaller steps, and wonder why they get discouraged from the first try. Years of experience have taught me that the beginning of the school year is not the ideal time to add in a new skill, so we work on those over the summer.
Take a task like cooking dinner and build a routine around learning that skill. Pick one night a week that your child will help you cook. Maybe the first three weeks you pick what’s on the menu and they assist you. The next three weeks, they pick the menu and you assist them. The remaining weeks, they try on their own with you nearby in case they need help. Be sure to build all the steps into the routine: What day does your budding chef need to submit a grocery list? Is there a budget? Who is in charge of clean up?
Starting in summer means we are less stressed with the hectic pace of the school year, and so are children. We can really take the time to teach without expecting perfection. By the time school starts, your child will really be able to pitch in.
The good news is with these three tips in place adjusting will be a whole lot easier in the fall!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published by GROW Parenting in 2018 and republished on ParentMap with permission.