Look just about anywhere on the internet, and you’ll find a plethora of opinions about how you (we, collectively) are raising your kids. As a result of our unenlightened parenting, our kids are too structured, they’re too lazy, they’re too plugged in, they’re not connected in the right ways. We push them too much, we push them not enough. It’s exhausting and ultimately unhelpful, because we all feel a bit attacked, and a bit guilty and afraid we’re doing it wrong.
The truth is, we are doing it a bit wrong, so you can relax! For generations, parents have screwed their kids up at least a little; why should we think we could possibly do it without error when literally nobody ever has? The best you can do is your best. Create the healthiest plan you can for you and your kid. Then observe and reflect. If it’s too much or not enough or unbalanced in any way, simply acknowledge that and adjust. And readjust. And readjust.
So with all of that said, I’m going to offer up ideas – not absolutes – to help you have a relaxing, empowering, engaging, and satisfying summer with your brilliant, funny, quirky, challenging kiddos. Use the ones that work for you, toss the rest. Add your own.
1. Wrap up your school year.
Before you plunge ahead, celebrate what you’ve accomplished this year! For parents with kids in brick-and-mortar schools, this can be stapling up all your kids’ accomplishments and artwork examples, and copies of especially brilliant papers. Pop your test scores in there too. For homeschoolers and hybrid educators, spend some time going back through your planner and calendar and writing up a summary of all your adventures together. It’s important (you’ll need it later, trust me), and it’s incredibly satisfying. You did more than you think you did, and when you write it all up, you’ll be able to celebrate your successes and begin the brainstorming process on how to do it better next year. Be sure to have a conversation with your kid/s too. Ask them what worked and what didn’t. Ask for their input on what they’d like to keep, what they’d like to toss, and what they’d like to add. For more on this subject, click here and here.
2. Create your family goals with balance in mind.
For years, our family spent a late spring dinner creating lists of summer goals. These could include small things like bike riding or bigger things like attending a concert. By listing everything – even the things we often take for granted – we acknowledged their significance. Sometimes these were family activities, and sometimes they were more personal. For example, husband-Jamie and I normally included writing as a summer plan. As the kids have gotten older, we’ve moved away from this specific list-making activities, but the lessons have set in and become ongoing conversation. Jamie and I prioritize writing, long walks to get our hearts pumping, and a lovely cold beer together just before dinner. Ian composes and gigs, and this summer is recording. Eva does summer theater and spends time with friends. As a family, we try to make time for as many outside mealtimes as possible, and well as many small evening fires in our cute backyard fire pit.
3. Teach your kids how to deal with boredom.
Many parents work year-round and don’t have the luxury of hanging out with their kids at home during the summers. For those folks, the amazing number of camps and summer activities available to kids is an essential and positive way to help keep their children safe and engaged. For those of us with more free-time during the hot months, additional downtime can be added as a healthy balance to the structured activities. I think summer camps and theater are wonderful options for our kids, and my own children are better people for their involvement. I also think that helping kids fill their downtime on their own is an important life skill that we sometimes neglect.
Just this week, I found Eva tinkering in the attic with her Legos, whiling away the afternoon. She often gravitates towards her Legos when she’s bored, creating sometimes simple, and sometimes extravagant narratives with the figures and buildings she’s cobbled together. Though this is normally a fun activity for her, I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. I asked her what was up, and she explained that she was feeling down, because she didn’t know what to do. These are common emotions that kids experience – both feeling bored and its often accompanying sense of depression. We had a little conversation, in which I pointed out that learning how to deal with alone time is important – especially as kids become teens and adults and are faced with unstructured downtime. I then asked Eva to think about some of the novels she had been reading lately. I asked her why she enjoyed reading about those kids. What did they have in common? Eva replied, “They do stuff. They’re more adventurous.”
And that was the important point: they do stuff. They don’t just think about doing stuff – they get up and do it! We talked a lot more about all of this, and in the end I challenged Eva to be the heroine of her own story. These fictional characters are interesting because they 1) have a vision, and 2) carry it out. That means that sometimes it’s ok to tinker aimlessly with Legos, if that’s what you want to do. But if that doesn’t make you happy, then it’s time to create a new vision and carry it out.
Oh, and unstructured time doesn’t come without its own rules. You may want to consider some general boundaries, like setting time limits on social media, video games, and other screens. For intense kids who tend to get obsessed with certain hobbies, you may also want to consider creating an expectation for activity diversity. Allowing time for kids’ obsessions (and you people know who you are) validates your kids’ interests; creating time limits helps expose them to the wider world.
4. Empower kids to do stuff on their own.
As a part of our boredom conversation, Eva and I looked at a specific book series she read last week about a group of kids who dealt with their summer doldrums by learning how to cook and starting their own catering business. I brought these books home for Eva, because she’s been expressing a desire to become a chef lately. I thought they would empower her to not wait on Mama to have the time or inclination to get in the kitchen (I’m not much of a kitchen gal).
We identified the things these fictional girls did and discussed what all Eva could do like them. This is what we found: they found friends to cook with (Eva has at least one such friend), they looked up recipes (the internet or the library has her all fixed up, along with the stack of cookbooks already in her room), they went to the store on their own and purchased their supplies (something I’m not ok with for Eva on her own yet, but I would let her go with friend on her bike or on foot), they experimented in the kitchen without parents (we’ve been over general safety rules, and she’s 10 now – totally capable), and they created a small business (the learning how to cook part probably needs to come first, but Eva could easily give away some of her delicacies for now).
By taking apart and examining each step, Eva was able to transform a large project that before felt unattainable into something she could do without Mom. You can do this with smaller tasks as well, simply by saying, “no, you do it,” when asked by your kids to make them a snack, or reach for something on a high shelf, hang up a poster, or set up a backyard swing.
5. Provide ideas, tools, and family involvement too.
Sometimes, of course, life is just more fun when Mom and/or Dad help out a little. Here are a few ideas.
- I saw this article on Buzzfeed with incredibly adorable activities for younger kids. It’s full ideas that parents have to set up (though they’re pretty easy and low maintenance) but provide a huge payoff in extended unstructured interaction for the kiddies.
- Commit to at least one weekly family outing… ice cream anyone?
- Providing tools, support and resources for big and small projects can help your kids unlock a lot of doors. I’ve got a whole post about how to support your child’s creativity over the summer right here.
- Keep your house and car stocked with fabulous library resources. Keep a mix of both fiction and non-fiction resources, choose them yourself or have your kids choose them with you, and make sure they’re fun! You of course know all about my vlog book review series on fabulous educational resources that will leave kids begging for more, right?
- Watch awesome stuff together. My favs: Cosmos, Vi Hart, Crash Course, CNN Student News, Bill Nye, “Hunting the Elements” (chemistry), or “Between the Folds” (origami). There are so many smart, funny YouTube videos and TV shows out there. Watch as a treat and discuss!
- Do family read-alouds. I don’t care how old your kids are; it’s so much fun.
- Play a bunch of board games. You guys already know all this stuff. Board games are awesome for so many reasons. Let me know if you need suggestions (we’re a bit addicted).
6. Do what’s right for your family.
Ultimately, you know your kid and your family best, so follow your instincts, even it it goes against the flow. For example, if you talk to the right person, kids’ lack of outdoors exposure has become a national crisis. There’s probably something to be said about that, and there’s something also to be said about limiting screen time for kids (and adults) of all ages. Now I’m a nature lover, and in the summer, my house falls apart on the inside, because I just can’t be bothered to come in from the garden. However, life for my son is quite different. He doesn’t share my need to be outside. He’s not into dirt nor the bugs that accompany the season, and pollen triggers some killer allergies that leaves him not just irritated but often downright ill. Ian’s love of the indoors has always been my personal challenge. But throwing a kid like him outside and saying “stay out for three hours” would be meaningless punishment for him. Sometimes general child-rearing rules will work for your family. Sometimes, they won’t. If somebody tells you you’re doing it wrong, 1) don’t take on the guilt, 2) reflect for nuggets of truth, 3) adjust if it will make your and/or your kids’ lives better, and 4) move on if not.
I’ve specially chosen some related reads that you might find helpful; you’ll find them below under the “You may also like” section. What’s your summer looking like? Do you have any particular struggles in keeping you and your family active yet balanced? As always, your comments are welcomed.
You may also like:
- Share this