Yeah summer!! Nice weather, sleeping in, fun in the sun, freedom! As parents we celebrate opportunities for camps, down time, and less structure for our children. And along with the joys and new adventures come the challenges we have to face – childcare, too much “family time” and our children being resistant to the fun activities we’ve planned. As you approach your summer job as family “activity director”, I encourage you to allow your children to lead you in new directions. There is an old Rabbinic saying: “Don’t limit a child to your own learning for he was born in a different time.”
Here are my top 10 recommendations to help you enjoy the summer with your children:
1. SEEK OUT ACTIVITIES THAT ARE THE RIGHT FIT. Pay close attention to each child’s temperament. If a child likes to be active and interact with people all day, then high energy activities and camps with structure will be great. If the child has lower energy and needs lots of down time, perhaps a half-day program or shorter commitments are best.
2. DON’T OVERSCHEDULE. Remember when we used to hang out and play games in the street and run from house to house with no real agenda or schedule? That kind of freedom doesn’t seem to be available to our children today as issues with safety are more prevalent and parents are much more involved with their children. Sometimes this leads to too much scheduling. Keep in mind that boredom breeds creativity and discovery. Allow your child the space to be bored and to figure out what to do on his/her own. Don’t be afraid to limit TV, computer and video games. Encourage as much outdoor time as possible -- even if it is raining.
3. INVOLVE YOUR CHILD IN CHOICES OF ACTIVITIES OR CAMPS. Your child will be much more cooperative and excited if he/she has input. If your child becomes rebellious about going to a particular camp or program, perhaps this choice was made by the parent. An excellent program should not always supersede the interests of the child. During the school year, there are fewer choices, so take advantage of the myriad camp and children’s programs that range from one day to a week to eight weeks in length. Keep in mind that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to find an excellent program. And, no program will be perfect. Even if your child has made a great choice, there will be ups and downs.
4. ENGAGE IN CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING, DON’T HOVER OR TRY TO FIX PROBLEMS YOURSELF. Meeting new people and engaging in new experiences are challenging for all of us. Expect a wide-range of emotions and show empathy when the child is struggling or frustrated. As parents, we tend to want to intervene when our children are struggling. We can teach our children to solve their own problems by gently guiding them and providing emotional support. Ask more questions; don’t offer so many answers. Here are some responses to use when your child comes to you with challenges:
• You must be feeling _____________.
• I can see why you are upset about _______________.
• What do you think you should do about it?
• Can you think of a solution that will not create problems for you or someone else?
• Follow-up by helping the child make good choices based on the consequences of their actions. For example, if Ben is upset because Jonathan was mean to him, Ben may say “I’m going to push him down”, or “I’m going to leave him out of our group tomorrow”. Keep probing by asking “Then what do you think will happen?” Eventually your child will come to a choice that makes sense and doesn’t have a negative consequence for her/him or the other child. Or he/she may make a bad choice, and if safety is not on the line, allow him/her to try something that you don’t think will work. Our children need to have opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
5. ALLOW GROWTH. Your child may come home one day with a different persona. He/she is trying out different behaviors he/she has noticed in others. Play along with the experimentation unless it is destructive. He/she will most likely go back to the child you know and love.
6. KEEP LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN. Create an atmosphere in your family that allows for honesty and openness. Don’t overreact when your child shares their experiences. If you have concerns, ask questions without interrogating. Work on being approachable. Strong reactions from parents simply shut children down. If your child says “I knew I shouldn’t have told you” or “I’m never telling you anything again”, then you know you have reacted too strongly. Thank the child for sharing and engage in problem-solving without high drama on your part.
7. ENJOY THE EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER! People are blessed with the ability to feel a huge range of emotions. As we grow older, we learn to control them, hide them and show our emotions only when appropriate. Help your children manage their emotions, but don’t tell them not to feel a certain way.
8. BUILD IN TIME FOR TZEDAKAH PROJECTS. Helping others provides excellent growth opportunities for children and adults alike. Our children need to continue learning the lesson that they are not the center of the universe and that others are in great need.
9. GIVE YOURSELF TIME OUT. Our patience and understanding is greater when we have taken time for ourselves. Ask for help from friends and family when needed.
10. “DO WHAT YOU LIKE, LIKE WHAT YOU DO.” That simple sentence on the “Life is Good” products can help us keep our summer activities in perspective.