Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Summertime: Prepare - Schedule - Enjoy

I think many of us have romantic visions of summertime.  An image of kicking back with an ice cold drink in a beautiful, carefree, sun filled setting often comes to our minds.  Unfortunately, the reality of summer living does not always match up to our expectations.  Though the kids have an abundance of time off, most parents continue working the same grueling hours.  Unless you have access to a pool and money for travel, once the extremely high temperatures here in Texas set in, the time outside that we have fantasized about becomes a distant dream.

Unfortunately, many parents due to soaring thermometers, fatigue, stress, and the need to avoid conflict, allow their children to sit for hours in front of a screen…..television, gaming system, or computer.  Often, the only time there is conversation is when the siblings are fighting about what television show to watch or whose turn it is to play on the  gaming system or computer.   The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child's use of TV, movies, video and computer games to no more than one or two hours a day. Too much screen time has been linked to sleep problems, behavior problems, violence, obesity, and a myriad of other problems.

So what is a parent to do? Prepare, schedule, and enjoy is the mantra I suggest adopting. 

Now is the perfect time to begin preparing yourself and your children emotionally for the changes summer vacation affords.  If your child has special needs, preparing for any kind of transition is essential. While usually greeted with excitement, summer vacation is a major transition for your child and your family. 
  • Assist your child in identifying their expectations of summer.
  • Explore your child’s feelings about leaving behind friends and predictible routines.
  • Assist your child in accepting the reality of the summer experience for you and your family.
  • Prepare children for changes in routines and schedules that you are implementing this summer.
  • Involve your child in setting schedules and making family plans. This is a perfect time to incorporate the use of Family Meetings.  Google “Family Meetings” to gain more information about this extremely helpful tool for building cohesiveness, problem solving, empathy, positive interactions, and appropriate expression of concerns and negative feelings.

All of us want a break from schedules from time to time however, eight plus weeks of no specific bedtimes or routine awakenings is not only excessive but harmful.  We humans crave and function best with routines, schedules, realistic bedtimes, and morning awakenings.  Now that you have minimized screen time more planning will be required to keep those kiddos busy.
  • Set a reasonable bedtime and wakeup schedule for your children based on their ages and vary from it as little as possible. The following guidelines may be of assistance: 
          Ages 1-3 10-13 hrs
        Ages 3-5 10-12 hrs
        Ages 6-9 10 hrs
        Ages 10-12 9 hrs
        Teens 8-9.5hrs
  • Schedule time for creative endeavors such as art, playing musical instruments, photography, acting, or cinematography. For younger children have some time scheduled either each day or several times a week where you have art activities available. Let your child experiment with different forms of artistic media.  You don’t have to spend a fortune.  For example, you can make your own play dough or purchase sidewalk chalk at the dollar store. Nurture your child’s creativity by following their lead and their interests.  Creativity takes many different forms so take some time to uncover your child’s creative gifts.
  • Schedule screen time.
  • Schedule “downtime” each day. 
  • Assign chores.  Remind children that summer vacation was originally designed so that children could help their families work in the fields.
  • Schedule 30 minutes of screen free alone time with your child each week.  This is a very special time in which you once again, allow the child to take the lead. Make sure the activities for which you engage are selected by your child. During this time try to not to preach, teach, question or tell your child how or what they should be doing.  Allow their play tell you about their inner lives and workings. With children ages seven and below you might want to pick some time to just play with them in their room or in a designated area with a specific group of toys.  You don’t have to do much but believe me, they will tell you what they want you to do if you allow them that privilege.
  • Take your children to the library once a week or twice a month to check out books and or participate in storytime. Make this a fun and rewarding experience.  Check out your local library and bookstore.  Usually many additional offerings are available for families during the summer.
  • Start a family fun night.  This offers the greatest rewards when it is scheduled the same time each week. Some families enjoy a pizza and movie night, board game night or a time in which the family engages in a special volunteer project together.
  • Schedule time to exercise or play together outside on a regular basis.
  • Review and refine your summer plans and schedules as you go.  The family meetings will greatly help in getting everyone onboard and taking ownership of the plans and schedules that have been implemented. 

Find joy in just being with your children.  The time you have with them is short-lived.  If you find that you are feeling unusually stressed, irritable, grumpy, anxious, or depressed, please seek help for yourself.  You are the greatest gift you can give your children and your mood is highly contagious.