boysprinklerParents often tell me they feel conflicted about the arrival of summer. Some have expressed, “I love my kids, but it can get so overwhelming when they’re home from school every day.” Like most parents, I love the beautiful sunny weather, the lazy days and the vacations that come with the summer. However, even the joys of the season can present new stresses, like juggling work and family responsibilities, packing for a trip, sibling conflicts and constantly hungry or bored children. All of a sudden the routine you worked nine months to perfect seems to have fallen apart in an instant.

Kids often look forward to summer expecting nothing but fun, while you think they can finally help you more around the house. When those expectations collide, chaos can ensue. It’s time to regroup and figure out a way to reconcile your child’s expectations with your own in a way that makes life a little easier for everyone. Not only can your kids have an amazing summer, so can you.

Create a Game Plan

I’ve found a formula for an awesome summer experience for you and your kids: 1 part planning + 1 part spontaneity = awesome summer! Easier said than done, right? Finding the perfect balance between spontaneity and planning can be tricky. A basic rule is to set clear routines and expectations from the beginning with the mutual understanding that there will be times for bending the routine and just enjoying time together. With the following five tips, you can decrease your stress level while building great memories for your family.

  1. Mornings matter: The morning routine is not something to be left to chance. To get each day off on the right foot, it’s important to be deliberate about your mornings. Collaborate with your kids on plans for your family’s summer mornings. My wife and children have established daily morning chores that must be completed before breakfast, such as making the bed. For working moms and dads, mornings are an especially important time to connect with the kids and get the day started right. Morning is a time to eat together and learn about each other’s plans for the day.
  2. Help kids with self-directed goals: Summertime provides a unique opportunity for kids to experience real, self-directed goal completion. During the summer, your kids get to identify any goal they want to accomplish. Set personal goals and invite your kids to write a summer “bucket list” of things they want to do or learn this summer. Share your goals with them. Inspire them to set their own self-directed goals. My oldest son has shown an interest in waterfowl and birds of prey. He wants to be able to identify the birds we see near our home.
  3. Plan activities: A lot of families participate in planned vacations, camps and programs that can give parents a break and kids some amazing experiences. Special daycare activities or summer sport/educational camps can be a fun way to make sure your kids are enjoying safe summer activities when you can’t be with them. However, it’s important not to overdo it. Planning specific activities is supposed to enhance your summer experience rather than unnecessarily tie you to endless commitments that stress everyone out. My wife and I consult our children when planning summer activities to help find the right balance for everyone.
  4. Let them play: Allow for time to just play and enjoy not having any specific demands. Dr. Scott Sampson, host and science advisor of “Dinosaur Train,” encourages parents to schedule unstructured play when kids create their own imaginative games and activities using natural elements. Let the kids play in the dirt or in the water. Let them use their imaginations to build forts and hideouts. Let them get a little bit sunburned. Even better, do it with them. The trampoline and sprinklers provide hours of summer fun at our house, even for Mom and Dad. This is where the balance comes in. As adults, sometimes we have to plan to be spontaneous, to take a random day off of work or schedule a special time in the evening to just play. No specific direction in mind, just play!
  5. Maintain bedtime: Summer bedtime can be tough because the days are longer and it’s still light outside. However, sleep is just as important during the summer months as it is the rest of the year. The morning and bedtime routines are like bookends on each day. They help our children feel some security and have time to bond regardless of work schedules, or whatever crazy experiences life brings. Whether it’s the school year or summer, our family always sticks with the same bedtime routine. Sometimes we are an hour later, but we always try to include our usual reading, stories and prayer each night.

Every family is unique and has certain preferences, but these important elements can be a great starting point for developing a wonderful, memorable summer with your children. Save yourself some stress by planning ahead, but always remember to look for the spontaneous moments that make all of the planning worthwhile.

About Andy Smithson, LCSW

Andy Smithson is a licensed clinical social worker, therapist, writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is a father of five wonderful children and a devoted husband. He is the creator and author of the TRU Parenting blog, and his writing has been featured in The Good Men Project, The Washington Post, The Deseret News and many other publications.

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