Summer Structure Makes the Difference

Happy family hugging outsideSchool’s out and some of our kids are already at home with us. Oh sure, some will go to sleepaway camp for a month, or to a day camp and return every night. There’s summer school—oh joy!—and then there are some kids who will be home the entire summer with no particular plans.

Whatever our summer plans, we know the pace is slower. Many times the reality of the summer break from school feels like there are even more demands on parents. Kids are bored and believe it’s our duty to fill their every waking moment with fun. Frustration begins to set in by day two and a pattern of yelling and fighting can shortly follow. Let’s make this summer successful right from the start. We can create the structure we all need and the kind of fun that kids can make with little help.

Structure is a tool used to effectively communicate what’s acceptable. We need structure to be effective at work and school, but have you considered using a similar structure to help your entire family get through the summer?

I’m a big fan of using calendars, agendas, lists, and reminder notes. I also like the idea of addressing issues before they become overwhelming. As a way to communicate what our summer will look like and address the possibility of bored kids, I suggest writing down a basic schedule of what each day will include. Start simple and basic with times and activities, such as what time to get out of bed, when to eat breakfast and get dressed, and what the activity of the day will be.

I love using whiteboards and sticky-notes to write down all the ideas of possible activities, then using a weekly calendar to post them. First add your work schedules, camp schedules, any classes, the major must-do’s for each family member, and scheduled appointments. Let each family member see the calendar come to life, color-coded and all. Talk excitedly, but calmly, about the various activities each person wants to do. There will be discussions about finances and feasibility as well—it’s important that those be discussed without drama.

Understand that children are taught to share and compromise both at school and at home. Within reason, parents, too, can certainly compromise, cooperate, and allow their kids to make their own choices for the summer schedule. This is a great way to communicate good life skills. Working on the structure of each person’s activities, those set up for the entire family, and room for spontaneous adventures, will help everyone see and understand how the summer will look like. More “buy-in” from everyone, less “check-out,” and even less boredom.

There will be times when the kids will say they are bored. It’s inevitable. But you don’t have to fall apart in response to this cry. Validate that you have heard them by acknowledging their boredom, then calmly suggest that they choose from activities you all wrote down earlier. Talk it out calmly and tell your kids you believe in their ability to make wise and fun choices.

Creating structure for your summer will take practice, but I believe your family can have a wonderful summer.  Your worst summer problems should be a minor sunburn, not a total emotional melt-down. Summer is the time to enjoy our kids and do activities that will provide fun memories for years to come. This summer, when it’s getting closer to the start of the new school year, you’ll be heard exclaiming, “No, we need more time, we’re all having so much fun!”

© Copyright 2010 by Beth S. Pumerantz, LMFT, therapist in Upland, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • donovan

    donovan

    June 11th, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    my wife and I always try and have something planned for our son for the summer every year…we plan in such a way that he gets to do something independently and he also gets to spend some time with us and maybe even go out to the country-side with us…

  • Townes

    Townes

    June 12th, 2010 at 6:25 AM

    Very important to keep the structure or some semblance of that going throughout the summer. I think that kids actually thrive on this and need some structure no matter what is going on in order to stay on task.

  • reta jack

    reta jack

    June 12th, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    summer is just oh-my-god!my two little monsters just want to play with me and do something that seems to exhaust me and never exhaust them!wonder where these little ones get all that energy from!

  • Holly

    Holly

    June 13th, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    I have friends that think that I am crazy that my kids still have bedtimes and scheduled things to do all summer. I am not one of those parents who just throws all of the hard work from all year down the drain simply because there is no school going on. Summer is when their brains go to mush anyway- why not keep them eager and engaged with fun and exercise, and keep them learning at the same time? Summer is a great time to catch up on sleep and be lazy too but not all old habits have to disappear when it gets hot outside. I for one feel that kids thrive on consistency and I try to do the best that I can to keep everything status quo for them so that when school does start back up then it is not such a culture shock for them all over again each year. If you get them too out of sync over the summer you spend weeks at the beginning of the school year just working to get them back on track.

  • Beth

    Beth

    June 18th, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    It’s important for there to be a balance between providing a structure and allowing for “structured” unstructured time. We all need both! Look at it as planned chaos! Parents create the basic structure in the form of a routine, and allow bites of spontaneous “chaos” within reason. It may be as simple as having dessert before supper, or a later bedtime while catching and learning about fireflies!

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