Think of your favourite childhood memory of summer. Did you think of building blanket forts with your siblings and cousins or picking strawberries one hot afternoon? Maybe ice-cream with your family and movie nights, or perhaps a vacation with your grandparents?
Something common that links many such memories is the joy that is found when our time is unstructured. In today’s world, both caregivers and children are facing high levels of anxiety. Being overstimulated or constantly on the go has become the norm for many kids – leading to stress, burnout, and feelings of unhappiness. Feeling physically and mentally exhausted, it becomes easier to justify eating junk food and taking a break by streaming a show or playing video games.
After a busy school year, it is important to take the time to slow things down in the summer, and model for our children what a healthy balance and pace of life looks like.
There are many benefits to children’s mental health when we give them the “gift” of boredom. When we don’t rush to fill vacant time constantly with structured activities or electronic devices, children are challenged to explore their interests and unleash their imaginations. It also helps them learn to manage their time, which is a life-long skill.
Here are some tips to get started with a slower summer.
As a parent, it is all too easy to compare notes with other parents and feel that you are not doing enough for your child. Remember, your children’s creative output does not have to be Facebook and Instagram-worthy. It is more important to let their imaginations soar as they put on their creative hats – as inventors, adventurers and performers.
Children need your time and attention. Make the space to truly be in the moment with your child – whether it is drawing together or camping in the backyard looking at stars. Take the time to connect with your children and have fun together! This is truly the best gift you can give a child.
Give children the opportunity to build deeper bonds with extended family and their communities in the summer.
There is space for some structured activity. From their youngest days, we know children thrive on routine. Aim for a sweet spot – let them feel a general sense of what to expect for the day or week, while making sure it is not over scheduled or overwhelming. Check in with your child or teenager to see if they feel they are living that right balance of being busy enough and having sufficient down time.
Be selective in the activities they participate in during the summer. Instead of filling their entire day with camps, sports, or dance, make sure they have room for free time.
Don’t hesitate to bring spontaneity to your day. Go check out the new playground, head to the splash pad for a joyful afternoon, or head to the movies that night.
Finally, don’t forget to make the time for self-care. Modeling and ensuring this is part of your child’s daily living will support their future mental wellness.
Commit to a calmer summer with your family – and delight in the surprises your children will unveil.