Nefesh Blog- Summer Anyone?

Dr. T,

It seems to defy common sense, but many of us struggle more with having free time on our hands than being intensely busy- and children are no exception. The sudden lack of structure when school ends and summer begins poses a real challenge for parent and child alike. Much as we relish the freedom, we often just don’t know what to do with it.

 A good beginning is to distinguish between less structure and no structure. “Less’ allows for a release of tension, a feeling of freedom – in short, space; but no structure leads to chaos and the possible disintegration of the family system – its rules and mores. So, a parent wants to plan proactively and determine which rules must be part of the summer regimen. And, while these rules will differ in various families, they would be geared towards maintaining a daily schedule, fulfilling our religious obligations, and being good to each other. So, some basic rules like waking up by a certain time and davening, having a bedtime etc. give some order and semblance to the day. By limiting the number of rules, yet consistently reinforcing them by a positive reward system [praise, charts, prizes etc.], a parent can achieve a relaxed, yet disciplined, tone in the home.

Though many a child, were he asked, would like to do what his parents or grandparents did all summer-i.e. nothing-that is not advisable, or even possible for most kids today. We generally do not live in neighborhoods where kids can ride their bikes, explore the terrain and be totally on their own. Furthermore, many parents work, even in the summertime. So, today’s parents schedule and over-schedule- camp, music or art lessons, karate, play-dates, sports etc.

 However, just as the lack of structure leads to a free-for-all and engenders the feelings of frenzy which you describe in your letter, too much structure is deleterious as well, because it spoils the feeling of freedom and does not allow the child space.  This lack of space encroaches on the child’s spirit and creativity and does not permit these important facets of his personality to develop. So, you want to talk to your child about the kind of summer he would like to have [day camp or sleep away? sports or music lessons? play-dates or library time?] and work with him to build some structure into his daily routine. Yet, you also want to leave some space for the child to be left to his own devices to pursue his own interests or to just ‘chill out.’

A final tip-when scheduling your child’s summer: make sure you schedule some time for yourself as well. Many a Mom runs herself ragged giving her kids a great summer vacation and ends up ignoring her own needs and feeling resentful. So, take a class, or a nap. Start a project or read a book. Go out with your husband or a friend. But, do something for yourself every day. Your being centered and relaxed –in short, your good mental health- will go a long way to making the summer manageable and enjoyable for you and benefit both you and your children.