by: Collette Dawson-Loveless, LCSW
Transitioning from the imposed structure that going to school creates to deciding how much structure we want in our family life for the summer can be challenging. During the school year the school sets our schedule for what time we need to get up and ready. We have to set up time each day for study and/or homework. We need to go to bed at an hour that supports our waking in time for school.
In the summer, we have a lot more flexibility. But, if we abandon all structure, chaos can ensue. We still need a regular, if somewhat later, bedtime. Going to bed and waking at the same time each day is an important part of good sleep hygiene. Eating at regular times improves our digestion and helps us maintain keep our internal clock.
On the opposite side of chaos stands rigidity. Imposing a rigid structure can impede our ability to connect in meaningful ways. Dan Siegel talks about staying in the flow of the river of wellness and away from the banks of chaos and rigidity. We need balance and, in the summer, we have greater ability to create that balance for the whole family.
We suggest having a couple of planning meetings. First, parents can meet, where possible, to get all the big items on the calendar: family vacations, camps, sport team commitments, summer holidays, and to discuss what they would like to accomplish with and for their family this summer.
Next, the whole family can meet together to brainstorm ideas for activities. Create a family bucket list. Make space for connecting with each child individually as well as collective activities. Remember, once school starts, you only have 12 or 13 summer breaks. And, those last 2 or 3 summers are filled with work and dates and other commitments your child will have going on. So, make the most of the time we have. However, it is important not to overbook the calendar either.
Downtime is essential for promoting creativity and imagination.
Playtime uses children’s natural pathway for learning about themselves and the world as it builds skills and encourages development.
What memories do we want to create? We want to build strong, resilient relationships. Many activities that support this require little or no money. Here are a few ideas for increasing mindfulness skills by playing together:
• Lie on your back and identify shapes in the clouds; notice the different shade of blue in the sky
• Play a game where you eat a summer treat (popsicle, snow cone, ice cream) and say nothing until you have finished it. Then share with each other your experiences of enjoying the flavor, temperature and anything else you noticed about that treat.
• Enjoy mindful walks together; notice all you can take in with your senses while you quietly walk and then share what you noticed.
• Slow down while reading a book; pausing to ask questions about what they characters may be thinking or feeling.
• Get out in nature and enjoy many activities, like: hiking, biking, boating etc.
• Take advantage of the good weather and increase physical activities by playing at the park or in the yard more often.
• Lay down together and blow and pop bubbles.
Be in the present moment and enjoy each other’s company as much as you can, and this summer will be one to remember!