The Secret to Summer Sanity
Remember those great summers when you were a kid? Lying on your back, gazing up at images in the clouds, climbing trees, swimming, munching on watermelon and seeing how far you could spit the seeds, riding your bike, making forts out of blankets draped over the swing set, sleeping in your back yard gazing at the stars, and if you were lucky, seeing a shooting star. The summer seemed to stretch out forever.
Compare that to this summer. I’m guessing that this year’s version is a little more hectic. I’m guessing that you just might be a little stressed trying to fit in everything. I know I am. Where did we ever get the idea that summer was a block of time in which to cram so much? There has got to be an easier way!
More is not better. It just makes us crazy trying to do it all and causes time to fly by. The whole idea of the dog days of summer is to slow down, kick back and refuel.
Here is the secret to summer sanity: Let go of the shoulds! Yep, let go and trust that focusing on "being" rather than "doing", will give your children the space they need to create their own summer memories. Believe me, the only things they are going to remember from being over scheduled is the nagging to "Hurry Up! - starts in 5 minutes!" and that you are a controlling parent who knows better than they do what they should be doing. The fact is that children arrive with this great inner blueprint of directing themselves to get their needs met. If we notice their interests and set up our homes inside and out with activities they enjoy, they will be independent, initiate their own play and keep busy. Children need these skills to be successful in their lives. When we interact too much, over schedule, or interrupt their cycles of concentration, we get in the way of them developing these crucial tools. Please, please take a deep breath and rethink your obligations, oops, I mean all the "fun" things you’ve scheduled!
Have a meeting and find out the ONE THING each family member really wants to do this summer. Don’t be surprised if your child says "stay home and play." Make sure those things get on the schedule, and let the rest go. Maybe the only real way to make sure we have down time in this day and age IS to schedule it.
When the heat wave hits or the air quality is poor, we are supposed to hunker down, stay cool and have fun with quiet activities. Energy begets energy. Active, loud, silly and wild games will just give you more of that behavior. From the time everyone awakens, set the tone for those inside days with the shades drawn, the lights low, soothing music, and plenty of puzzles, games, and alone play time. If you stay grounded, your kids will too. As soon as they start to spin out of control, get a book and read it aloud. Just do it instead of announcing it or trying to get them to join in before you start. They’ll come and settle down.
Let your kids get bored! And when they are bored, let them figure out what to do about it. Don’t rescue them or come up with something to entertain them. Instead, when they say "I’m bored!" reply, "Great, good for you. Now you can figure out how to have fun!" Try not to use the word "BORED" at all. If you are hearing that horrid word take credit for having put it out there in the first place. When your child says, "I’m bored" the unspoken message is, "Something outside of me (like YOU, Mom, Dad) made me bored, so you fix it." ACK! Get off the merry go round of thinking it is your job to keep your kids busy and happy!! It’s their job, and the sooner you quit being the cruise director the sooner they’ll take over.
Now, about summer schedules. Here’s what to do: Schedule meals and rests. That’s it. Loosen up about what they eat, offer food every two hours, always include a protein, serve it family style, let them serve themselves, and have wonderful chats without trying to get them to eat or try anything. Offer new foods at times apart from meals. Evaluate your child’s diet over a one-month period. If it is balanced over that time, you and they are doing great. Let go of trying to make any one particular meal balanced. Kids just don’t eat that way. They eat in phases. Carbs one day, proteins the next, then fruits or veggies. Trust that if you provide healthy foods and let them serve themselves, everything else will fall into place. Be OK with them choosing not to eat too. If you don’t want them to eat a certain food, don’t have it in the house.
Down time is very important. Make sure to incorporate it into your daily routine. Most of us need some space, or play alone time. I find this to be especially true for the half hour before meals. If you let your children play together during that time reconcile yourself to playing the cop, settling disputes and drying tears. Have alone book time in the afternoons to give everyone a break from each other and to allow yourself the luxury of enjoying a book. We all do better after refilling our wells with some quality time to ourselves.
Relax about bed time. As long as your youngster is getting a good night’s sleep, it’s all good. You’ll know if they need more by how they act during the day. If they are irritable, grumpy or weepy, they need more rest and less activity. Work it into your day and night schedule. Install blackout blinds to help them sleep in. A couple of weeks before school starts readjust bedtime in increments so they will be rested, ready and used to their school routine.
Be sure to let your children swim just for the fun of swimming. Swim lessons are important, but swim lessons won’t make your child "water safe." Would you really let your three year old jump into the deep end by themselves because they’ve had swim lessons? I hope not. Your children begin to learn logical thinking at four years and work on it till eight years. So, sign up for swim lessons, but also swim just for the joy of being in the water.
The American Red Cross recommends starting your child in learn to swim classes somewhere between the ages of four to six. They also recommend that parents watch children around any water, no matter how well the child can swim and no matter how shallow the water. Don’t rely on substitutes. The use of flotation devices and inflatable toys cannot replace parental supervision. Such devices could suddenly shift position, lose air, or slip out from underneath, leaving the child in a dangerous situation.
Now for those of you who simply must schedule activities, here is a simple guide:
Up to the age of 6, ONE outside activity at a time. ACK! You say, how can I limit my child’s exposure to only one thing? Rotate activities: summer=swimming, fall=sports or gymnastics, winter=dance, spring=music. The actual activities and their sequence is, of course, up to your child and her interests. FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S LEAD AND ENERGY LEVELS.
From 6 - 9 years add a second activity. From 9-12 years your child might be ready for a third. From 12 years on it should be mainly up to your child, with you offering guidance.
Your child will tell you through her actions when she is overwhelmed. If your child experiences mood swings, melt downs, tiredness, not wanting to do anything, then listen up! She’s over booked. You might also see the other end of the spectrum of responses; hyperactivity, over stimulation, frustration, throwing her things, or picking fights with others.
Childhood is not a race nor a competition. Your children have their entire lives to explore their interests.
Let your children claim their own childhoods. Work through your personal issue so that you don’t project your unmet needs onto your children and try to live through them. "I never got to take music lessons, so I want my child to take them."
This summer give your children the greatest gift of all: To live their own lives following their own passions and plenty of time in which to do it.
Now go out and buy some watermelon with seeds.