Written by Peryl Agishtein
Ahh, the fresh smell of mowed grass… no school… and sun, sun, sun! Many of us remember summer as one of the most favorite and relaxing time of the year. Did anyone else count down the days until school was out? But once we grow up, and often work through the summer, and have kids out of school… and somehow summer morphs into a season marked with its own unique stressors.
Summer has a number of common stressors. Changes in routine (e.g., from school to vacation) come with the need for adjustments, which can be inherently stressful. Kids in particular may struggle to be flexible and stay even-keeled despite upended routines, which can lead to behavioral challenges and parental stress. Often there are even bigger changes that occur in the summer: Some families move houses or cities or take on new jobs, which can compound the general stress of routine changes. Another stressor that can arise in particular during the summer months relates to body image: Swimming and summer sports reveal more of our bodies, and even for those who forgo the pool, saying goodbye to sheltering coats and bulky sweaters can be cause for distress.
For parents of school-aged children, one particularly taxing stressor is the traditional cry “I’m so booooorrrredd!” Children who are used to jam-packed schedules and to-do lists can find themselves at loose ends with ample free time (as can adults), and may depend on their parents to entertain them. Another stressor for parents can arise when children compare summer plans, which often leads to jealousy. Comparison-based jealousy is most problematic in communities where people of varying SES all live side-by-side, or share schools or camps. Children in these communities are easily exposed to what others have, which can sometimes be sharply contrasting to what they own. Sleepaway camp in particular serves as a ripe context for highlighting children’s possessions that are not revealed in school, such as entire wardrobes, linens, pillows, accouterments, canteen and trip allowances. Unfavorable comparisons in any of these areas can lead to jealousy, unhappy children, and parents feeling pressure to either spend more or say no to their children.
However, with the beautiful weather and time off, it’s important to seize the day and not let summery stressors take over. Each summer stressor has unique solutions, but here are some tools that can work across the board for all:
First, implement a detailed summer routine BEFORE the end of June. Routines can include unstructured free time to relax, but should be generally predictable and comfortable in order to reduce the stress of unpredictable changes and the cries of “I’m booored.” For parents, sit down with each child and help them write a list of activities and goals that they want to reach over the summer (ranging from the small, such as blowing bubbles or reading Harry Potter, to the large, such as learn to play guitar). Encourage your child to build time into their day to engage in those activities/ goals. If they do turn to you for entertainment, remind them of their list and transfer the responsibility for entertainment back to their shoulders. However, make sure that with the cessation of individual homework time, each child continues to get plenty of attention and time with their parents (including at least a bit of individual attention). This will help relieve the pressures of entertaining your child (as they won’t be seeking your attention as much) and will help foster secure children who are happier with what they have.
Second, try to experience and model contentment with your summer plans as well as positivity and enthusiasm for the small pleasures of summer (both in speech and in affect). Stay away from comparisons and gossiping in general. Why ruin a beautiful time of year? And make sure that you do take the time to relax, go swimming, barbecue, or do whatever it is that makes summer special in your family culture.
Who says grown-ups can’t look forward to summer?