How To Have The Best Summer Ever With Your Child or Teen
Tired of your child or teen spending their whole summer on a screen?
Find out how to plan a summer where they participate in a mix of relaxing and worthwhile activities – and build a close and positive relationship with your child too!
Many summer breaks are wasted because parents don’t have a plan for how to use it.
The problem is that many parents have an idyllic view of summer break that rarely materializes. I know this is true because I fell for this as a parent myself, and, as a child psychologist, I’ve seen this scenario play out with my patients every single year.
Parents WANT summer break to be a time of lazy days participating in fun activities with their kids. They dream of bonding with their child through special heart-to-heart talks that were elusive during the school year because of the busy academic and extracurricular schedule. And they are especially looking forward to stress-free days without the demands of homework deadlines, carpool lines, and friend drama.
When my kids were younger (they’re young adults now), I was always so glad when the last day of school finally rolled around, and we were able to start the summer break, but, somehow, our summer never quite ended up like the description above. My kids complained of being bored. They spent too much time on screens. I had to beg them to get out of their pajamas. There was more sass than I liked.
Does this sound familiar to you? I’ll bet it does…and there’s no shame in that. Most parents are in this same boat.
After I wasted too many summers being disappointed about how we spent our time as a family, I finally became intentional about how I parented during the summer break, and it made all the difference in the world! Once I started using the strategies that I’m going to give you in this article, I started to enjoy my kids’ summer breaks more, but I noticed that both my kids were more prepared to start school when September rolled around. Why? Because they balanced their time with relaxing activities (like screen time) with worthwhile activities that helped them develop their natural passions and interests while building good family relationships.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll be excited to have a plan that supports YOUR idea of a perfect summer – and you’ll feel confident in carrying out this plan too. I’m going to give you four great strategies to create a summer break that supports your child in developing as an interesting person and enables you to build a better and stronger parent-child relationship.
To be successful in implementing a new parenting strategy, you’ve got to be clear on the life lesson that you’re teaching your child through this new parenting strategy. In this case, you are teaching your child about spending their time wisely. It’s great to have vacations and breaks, but that doesn’t mean that your child should spend three months in their pajamas playing video games and eating hot Cheetos all day.
This parenting strategy will teach your child to balance relaxing time with worthwhile activities. Kids who master this life lesson mature into young adults who are interesting, engaging, and motivated to pursue passions and goals.
Keep that in mind when learning the four tips below.
Tip #1: Create a “loose” summertime daily schedule
A loose summertime schedule is a plan of activities or tasks that come in a predictable order, but are not necessarily strictly enforced by time. For example, below is an example of a loose family schedule:
Wake up: no later than 9:00 am
Personal Care: eat breakfast, brush teeth, shower, change clothes
Relaxing activity #1: Kid’s choice (can involve video games, social media, YouTube, etc.)
Movement time (walk around the neighborhood, throw a basketball in the driveway, etc.)
Relaxing Activity #2
Relaxing Activity #3
Bedtime: No later than 11:00pm
In the example above, not all the activities are based on the clock, but they are “chunked.” “Chunking” blocks of time for the family schedule gives kids and teens a sense of predictability and accomplishment.
Your summertime family schedule needs to have an element of predictability so that your child can learn to manage the schedule independently. Now that’s not to say that you won’t need to enforce the schedule, but you’ll get less sass from your child or teen when they know what to expect.
It’s also really important that your child feels a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. Even if the only thing they accomplished was to pick up their dirty clothes from the floor and work a little bit on their hobby, they’d learn that it’s important to feel accomplished at the end of the day. This is all a part of teaching them that lifelong skill of managing their time wisely.
Tip #2: Enforce a balance with online vs. offline time
I’m not going to lie; it’s going to take work on your part to monitor that your child or teen doesn’t spend their whole day on a screen. Whether it’s video games, social media, discord, or YouTube, your child or teen will naturally gravitate to spending their time on these activities, and it’s YOUR job to teach them a better balance with their time.
When my kids were younger, I remember that it took a lot of energy on my part to make sure they didn’t spend all their time on screens during the summer. The family schedule was my best tool for ensuring they had a good balance with their time.
Like many of you, I was a working parent when my kids were younger, so I had to get proactive and creative when enforcing this balance. When they were younger, I would make sure my kids brought books, games, and other activities with them to the babysitter’s house (usually, my sister watched my kids for me) so that they had non-screen options with them. When my kids were older and could stay at the house unsupervised, they knew the daily schedule – and that they could not have screen time if their other “chunks” weren’t done by the time I got home. So, if I got home and they weren’t showered, dressed, chores completed, and progress wasn’t made with their interest/hobby, they wouldn’t get their screens the next day.
You know your kids and your schedule best, so design a summer routine that works for your family. Get creative and try different ways of enforcing this online vs. offline balance until your find a strategy that works for you.
Tip #3: Encourage participation in a hobby, interest, or extracurricular activity.
Your child will develop into an interesting person when they are encouraged to spend some of their day where they dive into a passion or interest. Your summertime schedule should include a daily chunk for this exploration.
Some kids develop early interests, so figuring out how to encourage them to spend their time isn’t hard; however, some kids need time and energy to develop their interests.
For example, one of my patients loved making jewelry from an early age. She loved going to craft stores and swap meets to find interesting beads and other materials to create her bracelets and earrings. So, when her dad implemented a hobby chuck of time in her summertime schedule, it was pretty easy for her to gravitate to making her jewelry during this time. She made so much jewelry that she started selling it on Etsy, and this gave her a great sense of accomplishment and mastery,
On the other hand, I had a young teen patient who swore that he didn’t have any interests other than video games. When his parents encouraged him to spend time on a hobby chunk, he suggested that his hobby was creating video games. He suggested that he “research” video games by playing them during his hobby time, but his parents signed him up for a coding camp instead. Since then, he now has a love of coding and all things computers.
The lesson here is that you can let your child suggest their hobby or interest, but YOU need to steer them to spending time on a quality interest. It’s also ok if your child tries something and finds out they don’t like it. Don’t let that discourage you (or them). Keep exposing them to new interests until they find one that sticks.
Tip #4: Plan Relationship-Building Times
Your summertime family routine should include built-in times to connect with your child.
Depending on your schedule, it can be something that is done daily (i.e. dinnertime together or afternoon walks in the neighborhood) or weekly bonding activities (i.e., Saturday morning breakfast at a favorite restaurant). The point is that these times should be spent focusing on your child.
These times should include one-on-one time with each child and time with the whole family. Many teens prefer to isolate themselves in their rooms all day, so YOU have to be proactive in getting them out of their rooms and interacting with family.
If your child or teen gives you a grumpy attitude about spending time with you or the family, try not to take it personally. So many teens go through this phase, but it shouldn’t discourage you from planning family times together.
Below are some examples of relationship-building family activities:
- Take the dog for a walk in the neighborhood
- Go out to breakfast together
- Build a puzzle together over a period of several days or weeks
- Go to a concert or sporting event together
- Get a manicure or pedicure together
- Family board game night
- Special food night (i.e., Taco night, build your own pizza night, etc.)
- Go to the beach or park together
Tip #5: Let your child have some say in the schedule.
Finally, you’ll be more successful in implementing the summertime routine if you allow your child to have some input into the schedule.
The best way to go about this is to determine up front where you are prepared to compromise. For example, let’s say that you are pretty firm that your teen needs to wake up by 9:00 am and that they need to have a reading chunk and movement chunk included in their day somewhere. Then you can sit down together and figure out where the chunks of time will go on the daily schedule.
Giving your child or teen the ability to have some agency over their time helps them feel a little bit more in control and part of the process. Having this conversation with them also provides the opportunity to teach the life lesson behind why you are doing this, as well as to bond with your child.
What To Do Next
So before moving on from this article, download The Summer Schedule Planner Workbook that goes along with this article. By going through the step-by-step excercises in the workbook, you’ll feel confident that this summer won’t be wasted – you’re child or teen will participate in a healthy mix of relaxing and responsible activities AND you’ll have focused time building a close and positive parent-child relationship.
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