Do you remember what it was like to be a kid in the summer? Most memories involve sun, fun, loads of ice cream, trips, adventures and…NO school!
That was usually the best part! Sleeping in, no homework, playing with your friends all day, watching cartoons, staying up late, and of course, going home when the street lights came on. Sound familiar?
Can you recall a fond summer-time memory from your childhood? What things did you do or experience that you can still recall with such warmth and joy – as if it happened yesterday Take a moment to think about it…savour in the feelings you once experienced when you were a child during the summer. Are there any that you would love to re-experience with your own children now?
Often, we have ideas of all the wonderful things we want to experience with our kids, but, parenting life can be busy! And there always seems to be something to do…. Between working, maintaining the house, being a good partner, friend, sibling, and parent, taking care of yourself and your children, cooking and cleaning, there is always something we “should/could” be doing.
Now, consider this: There are only 18 summers with our kids.
How does that make you feel?
At the start of the summer, during one of my live workshops, I shared this statistic, and many parents felt sad… among many other mixed feelings. One thing was for sure, it shifted their perspective.
Many of my clients have been expressing concerns about summertime. The truth is, the summer break can be a joyful, yet overwhelming season, and as such, the level of anxiety runs high in many families.
Parents say to me:
- I don’t want my kids on screens all day, how can I enforce the limits I set?
- How do I get my kids to help out around the house?
- I want my teen to get a summer job – how do I motivate them?
- How can I spend quality time with my kids with the little time I’ve got?
- I’m with my kids all the time, how can I set boundaries?
- I want to enjoy the summer too!
There is an internal struggle parents feel and they often wonder: How can I honour the needs of my kids AND my own needs WHILE enjoying this ‘special’ time of the year?
Add in the fact that there are only 18 summers with our kids, ‘special’ time of year takes on a whole new meaning and it can certainly add some pressure (like we don’t have enough to worry about as parents, right)?
I invite you to take a deep breath and relax. My job is to help you parent with ease, right?
So let me share with you the 5 ways to create a stress-free summer. Here’s the neat part, these 5 ways are (in theory) simple, easy and effective!!
Here’s the tricky part: sticking to these 5 concepts with consistency is hard!
That’s where I come in; my expertise is helping parents to go from surviving to thriving, without the stress! Who doesn’t twist that?
Let’s dig in!
Five ways to help make your summer a breeze:
1) Have clear expectations:
Be realistic with what YOU truly want and can do for your family. Set expectations that work for YOU. Don’t worry about what others are doing, or having the need to create the best summer ever for your kids. Free yourself of the “shoulds” and focus on what will be easy and enjoyable on your terms.
Planning how the summer is going to look, can be a co-creation with your family members. But before entering into this conversation, you need to know and be confident with your parameters – aka, what you have time for (depending on your own schedule) and what kind of summer you’d like to create (easy, adventure-filled, simple, etc).
Take a moment to think about this… really consider what you loved most about summers when you were a kid. Most often, our fondest memories are simple (sleep in), inexpensive (play with friends) and memorable (sleep overs, staying up late and eating ice cream everyday). Don’t feel like you should be doing something extravagant, especially if, at this moment, you don’t have the resources (time, money, emotional bandwidth) for it. Consider doing something simple that they don’t often get during the school year (ice cream, staying up late and watching copious amounts of t.v.). Remember, this isn’t forever, it’s just for the summer. When school is back in, we can readjust the expectations in alignment with the upcoming school year.
Bottom line: Give yourself permission to adjust your expectations so they work for you and your family; allow the summer to be on your terms.
2) Co-create a routine (instead of a structured schedule)
Unlike a structured schedule, where everything is dictated by precise time, routines are less rigid. Routines allow for flexibility and some autonomy – which is helpful – and developmentally healthy – for you and your kids.
Depending on your child, their age and their temperament, a routine provides them with the balance of flexibility and certainty – however, you may need to lean into a bit more structure IF that is supportive for your child. Having predictability in knowing what is going to happen in the day or week, gives the brain a sense of comfort and in turn, reduces anxiety.. Here’s the other benefit when it comes to co-creating a routine with your child: they are more invested and engaged! Kids are much more inclined to cooperate when they are involved in the process – including creating a routine for the summer! Another benefit of routines – they can be more fluid, and flow with what and where you want to go. Let’s face it, there will be days where it’s too hot to do anything, or you have an impromptu invite to a pool party. Don’t you want the flexibility to shift the routine to meet your needs too? Playing hooky for a day to enjoy some time with your kids is okay – just be sure to communicate that it’s on your terms!
The best way to handle impromptu change – and therefore reduce anxiety – is to give as much notice as possible and to give a “logical” explanation of the change. If you have a highly sensitive, high-emotional kid, or oppositional kid who needs some firm, predictable routine, having the day, week or entire summer organized can be helpful if you and/or your family members need that sense of knowing (which can reduce your anxiety). If you’re the type of person who can go with the flow, be sure to meet your child where they are at too – especially if their brains require more predictability and structure.
Bottom line: Know what kind of routine/structure works best for you and your kids, then, get them involved in creating it with you; aim for a win-win.
3) Limits (or boundaries):
Kids, regardless of their age, need limits and responsibilities (we’ll get to this one next) – even during summer time! Limits, or boundaries, provide another sense of certainty, which, in turn, calms the brain-body system, thereby reducing anxiety.
I often tell my clients, you’re doing your children a disservice if you don’t have limits (and age appropriate responsibilities – which we’ll talk about next).
Of course, limits need to be loving, clear, reasonable and, ideally – as we just talked about – co-created. Limits could be around screen time, getting outside, being active or simply helping around the house. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to see happen, have a discussion with your kids to co-create a win-win situation.
For example, let’s say they want to watch t.v. as soon as they wake up and let’s say you’re okay with screen time everyday, but not all day. You can co-create a win win such as: you can watch as much t.v. as you’d like as soon as you ________ (insert some “must-dos” here). What are must dos? They are the things that need to get done before the can-dos (in this case, watching tv) is permitted.
Here are some common must-dos: chores around the house, physical activity/exercise, getting outside for fresh air, reading, etc. Conceptually, this makes sense and many parents do this naturally. However, most parents tend to struggle with keeping (not creating) the limits. Consistently is key here, but it’s often where parents lose steam, and understandably so! Being overtired, stressed out, exhausted from the non-stop summer momentum, and hearing your kids complain they are “bored”, can wear anyone down!! All these variables can shorten your ability to keep, or consistently maintain, the limits/boundaries you’ve co-created. I refer to this as your bandwidth (the mental-emotional-physical endurance you have in any given moment). What ends up happening is we become inconsistent or even give up, during the tireless negotiations, complaints and persistent badgering that our adorable, yet sometimes annoying kids can display! When your bandwidth is shortened, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to maintain consistency with the limits you set!
Maintaining consistency with the limits is one of my coaching super powers with parents… trust me, if you’ve ever been inconsistent, you’ll need me in your back corner, supporting you along the way to being a consistent limit keeper!!! It’s a game changer.
Bottom line: Set limits that ultimately work for you; honouring some of your wants/needs along with some of your child’s wants/needs and when you need support to maintain/keep the limits you’ve set, call me!
4) Responsibility: How do you pass the responsibility baton to your kids?
Parents often do so much for their kids! And some of it – depending on their age – is absolutely necessary.
For example, we need to provide the basics (food, shelter, clothing, love and safety) and then there are other things – like making meals and doing their laundry – that are age-dependant, meaning we would do it for our younger kids but for our older kids, we could pass the responsibility baton to them! If you’re curious, you can find a list of age-appropriate chores here.
Here’s the thing, kids are more capable than we give them credit for. However, where many parents get stuck is the quality of the chore their kids are asked to do.
For example, let’s say our tween has the responsibility to clean the washroom, it may not get done to our expectation or the level of cleanliness that we would do. In this case, many parents will either do the chore over themselves or complain that it’s not done right – either response can deplete the (little) confidence their child may have to complete this chore.
I always tell parents to let go a little (of the expectation) and trust a lot (in their child’s effort). Believe that your child is capable of being responsible and focus on their effort, not the end result.
Remember, this isn’t a one time conversation. It’s a process and it will require some upfront conversation and possibly include some frustrations along the way, but it’s well worth it.
Essentially, we want to train our kids to be responsible and contribute to the family (like they would to a team – soccer, dance, etc.). Everyone has to do their part to make the entire team (family) function well. In fact, I like to refer to chores as “family contributions” because it eliminates the often negative connotation of the “c” word and reminds them that they are an integral part of this team/family. When every member of a team/family knows how valuable their contribution is and how integral it is to the “success” of that team, they are more likely to be motivated to take on the responsibility. Without being too obvious, we’re inviting them to be a good human being (aka, a good team member), by intrinsically motivating them. Genius, right?
Now, I also said I want to make things easy for you…and the above mentioned approach can take time and effort which could add to your parental anxiety. So if using the above approach this summer isn’t in your bandwidth right now, you can always use a rewards system. I’m not typically a fan of using rewards (because they are very extrinsically motivating) but it can serve a purpose to help make your summer easy. So if you need to notice your kid to take on responsibilities by using rewards (monetary or not) – go for it! Keep in mind, it’s not a good long term strategy, but for an easy summer, it might be the perfect solution!
Bottom line: Know the age-appropriate chores and motivate your child/teen to contribute to the family/team because it’s the “good human being thing” to do.
5) Quality Connection Time (QCT):
Spending quality connection time with your kids is key!!! Remember we only have 18 summers with them!! This doesn’t mean you need to spend everyday, all day, for the entire summer with them; it’s quality – not quantity that counts. Here’s the best thing about QCT, when you authentically connect with your kids, you both get a biochemical benefit! More specifically, your autonomic systems (your fight/flight/ freeze/fawn reaction part of your mind-body) will feel a sense of ease and safety and as such, reduce any anxiety. Here’s an example, let’s say your kid is at camp and/or you’re working all day and there isn’t much time to spend with them. You can simply give them a heart to heart hug and tell them (or text them) one thing you really adore about them. Or, spend some time playing one of their favourite video games or watching one of their favourite t.v. shows. QCT can take as little as 1 minute, 10 minutes or even a couple of hours (coffee date with your teen, even if they don’t say much – it still helps).
The key here is to be present – no phones, no distractions, no barraging thoughts of the million things you need to do. Be there, truly, with your kids. Make QCT work for you… allow it to be easy (remember it can be done in as little as 1 minute a day) and focus your energy on being consistent with it.
Bottom line: Be present with your kids when you spend QCT with them. Remember, there are only 18 summers with our kids, so make these moments count and make them work for you by allowing them to be easy.
There you have it – 5 ways to make your summer a breeze. Which of the five will you focus on right now?
Not sure where to start? Or perhaps you think these won’t work for your kid?
A stress free summer is completely possible for you and your family – start making this one the best yet!
Allow me to close off with sharing what one parent had to say about my coaching advice: “I loved that you gave us permission to adjust the expectations to make sure we all have a good summer.” – Mihaela D.
Now give yourself permission to do any (or all) of these 5 suggestions and create a stress free summer – you deserve it!