Hey parents! It’s that time of year again when the summer break is right around the corner. How are you feeling? What do you anticipate?
For many, this can be a time of looking forward to carefree days of open calendars and fun with family and friends. There can also be some very real challenges. Children with less structure, more free time and more time at home while parents still try and meet all of their own personal responsibilities and expectations, can be a recipe for stress and conflict.
Before you pick up the summer copy of your local rec centre’s programming options, take a look at these strategies.
In the summer and always, remember this first and foremost. Your energy, words, and actions have the power to create calm or chaos.
Since behaviour is a form of communication, grounding ourselves in this knowledge can be a reassuring cornerstone of dealing with children. From the perspective that their own inner turmoil, a lack of skills or a need for connection (maybe all 3) is probably behind the behavior, many adults can better manage their personal triggers that inflame situations. Instead, they can choose a more compassionate and supportive role.
This is not to excuse or tolerate negative behavior. However, in the midst of interpersonal conflict, we can inadvertently be reinforcing the very behavior we wish to stop. In addition, we can create feelings of unhealthy shame, blame, and guilt.
Since your parental words of wisdom are not being heard anyway, focus on returning to calm and connection. Then look for opportunities to teach.
Two days after school ends and the incessant whine of ‘I’m bored’ begins. Friends have their own plans so you become the sole source of entertainment. Ugh – not already!!
Boredom can be a challenge and also an awesome opportunity to inspire problem-solving and creative thinking. First, check in with your own personal expectations. Trying to keep everyone happy and busy all the time will send even the most Pinterest savvy parent to Baileys in their first cup of coffee!
Instead, invest a bit of time brainstorming about boredom ideas early on. We make a ‘boredom list’ but use a jar, box …. whatever might appeal to your family. Write down as much as you can and feel free to add later. The idea is to use it, rather than you, as the entertainment inspiration at the first sign of sulking.
If this falls short, allow them time to be bored before you intervene. During this time, they may surprise you as they work through the situation albeit, perhaps, kicking and screaming. Use these opportunities to build their awareness of how capable they are of problem-solving, being proactive, cooperatively working toward a common goal, handling uncomfortable emotions etc. In the moment of creating the list, using it or working through their feelings, they are.
Make some plans, even if you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants.
The reason for this is not to make everything carved in stone or predictable. Rather, it is to be able to answer the barrage of questions with something more tangible than ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’. Absolutely, these are answers that children need to be able to accept! However, too many of them can lead to unnecessary conflict.
Find the balance of planned events and unscheduled time that works for your family and save ‘no’ for the times when you really need it.
For those with multiple children, also work in both together and one on one time. Planning focused time with each child can go a long way to keeping things on an even keel. Children want to feel like they have YOU and being proactive can help. Even short periods of time doing something low key can fuel connection, a feeling of belonging and opportunity to be acknowledged.
Be proactive with sibling dynamics.
If you have more than 1 child, you know that all the things that come with more time together can provide an opportunity to ramp up the conflict between children. Check out this article, “7 Shifts to Help Manage Negative Sibling Dynamics” for some specific strategies to help.
If you are planning a time when you will all be in close quarters (I am thinking road trip etc.) a credit system can come in handy.
While I am not usually a fan of providing external rewards, I have found great success with time ended events. Because there is no on-going need to keep at it, the maintenance and consistency are manageable. Best of all, when you apply Nurtured Heart Approach® intentions, it is a wonderful opportunity to grow greatness rather than focus on extrinsic rewards. Check out what we have used with wonderful results.
Maintain some structure.
While it is tempting to relax things over the summer, try not to let go of too many routines and responsibilities. Children can manage big emotions better when they are not physically compromised. Things like bedtime and eating, we can influence, so keeping hunger and exhaustion out of the equation can help.
Also, life still goes on. Continuing expectations around family contributions to maintaining the home and personal responsibilities can minimize the burden on parents while ensuring children understand there are still others to help on summer vacation.
Yeah! Another opportunity to build confidence in their abilities. When children are keeping up with their responsibilities and taking on new tasks over the summer, they are being cooperative, helpful, a valuable contributor and maybe even being a keen learner in the case of new tasks If these are qualities you want to develop in your children, take these moments to authentically acknowledge when they are happening.
Resist the temptation to allow electronics to take over.
Many children, especially older ones left alone, will want to spend time gaming, surfing, texting or in front of the TV. It is an easy go-to when boredom sets in or peers are doing the same. In case you haven’t heard, ‘everyone gets to access electronics all the time!’. Don’t fall for that line as it can put you on a slippery slope! While it is true that many do, there are also many that don’t.
If you have limits during the school year, stick to them or decide ahead of time what the summer exceptions will be and then consistently enforce it. Use parental control options on devices to help enforce the limits and be clear on the consequences for breaking the rules.
Most of all, be sure to notice when rules are followed, consequences are accepted and a balance in activities is being used to fill the day. These are qualities of maturity and responsibility that we don’t want to go unnoticed. Maximize these strength building moments.
In all of this, remember to take time for you. Whether you work inside the home, outside the home or both, when you are doing your summer planning, think about how you can re-charge your batteries. While it may not seem like it at the beginning, the summer will fly by! Do what you can to look back and remember the times – even if only a few – when you had a smile on your face, the energy to enjoy some family time and the ability to cope gracefully with the challenges.
Most of us know first hand how hard it is to have positive outcomes when we, as the adults, are not in control of our own reactions. I have certainly been in my fair share of battles with my children and I know how hard it can be. If you need support, you are not alone. Reach out to friends, family or professionals. We are here to help!
Marny Elliott is a Parent Coach and Relationship Counsellor. She empowers parents, educators and professionals to use the Nurtured Heart Approach®, an effective, heart centred method to transform behaviour, build relationships and grow the Inner Wealth® of children. In addition, she provides holistic counseling to adults seeking to address defeating patterns and improve their relationships with themselves and others. Please visit www.joywithin.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250.218.8702.