When my girls were itty bitty, I would set a calendar alarm for late March early April just as the summer camp registrations were opening up. I was so proud of how organized I was. If I only knew. LOL. Because, now that the girls are older, it’s way more challenging than one calendar entry. Not only am I scrounging to find things for them to do, I am juggling the multiple calendars and commitments they already have including acting, camp, church. and work. You name it, and it’s happening in summer now that the girls are older.
One of the biggest stressors for parents – myself included – is the transition of schedules and roles at home that happens each summer. The balancing act is this: We want our kids to have freedom in the months ahead, but schedules and home duties still have to be maintained. How do we fit it all in?
I recall the summer I was finishing the book, we had two MAJOR client renovations happening at the same time. Travis and I decided to give the girls free reign over their schedules and devices. We knew we couldn’t helicopter around them and with work, we were so busy that we were even sending meals to them via Uber eats when we couldn’t make it home in time to cook. What. A. Disaster!
Between the overuse of their devices and lack of home structure, we had some of the biggest fights we’ve ever, not to mention how moody they all were. When we were all home together, we were walking on eggshells. To say we were all not happy campers is an understatement. . Not only that, we came home to a chaotic mess of unfinished chores and messy rooms every single day.
After that summer, I said never again, and I developed our summer house rules. The methods we’d follow as a family to make summer a breeze and I’m sharing them all with you today.
Communicate early on
I mentioned that summer camp registration alarm. I used to find fun camps in spring that would organize our summer days. Whether your child is five or fifteen, finding something they will enjoy instead of dreading each day is a must. The trick is positive communication as you search.
Before school ends, find a designated time for a family meeting. Don’t give them too many options. Three was always my magic number. Discuss the pros and cons of what they like and dislike about each. If there is a clear slam dunk, consider that a victory. But if it’s something like summer school, discuss all the variables —like friends they already know are going or new friends the’ll meet that they can invite over. Additionally, discuss something fun they can earn while being at summer school. Extra device time is always a win with any kid these days.
Structure provides Security
Humans thrive on structure. In fact, it’s a trait we display in infancy. Even as newborns, we are seeking that consistent structure. Our brains are wired for it. When we cry, we are establishing that patterned response from a parent, calling them to us to come and assuage our needs. In fact, science shows us that when babies feel secure they thrive. That doesn’t go away. As humans, when we can feel secure at home, we are cementing the opportunity to live the best version of ourselves. That’s why writing Home Therapy was so important to me, establishing the methods that increase our happiness and sense of belonging at home is critical to how we grow in the world, and it’s why I feel so passionate about sharing it with everyone.
Just as in infancy, a very important step for successful transition to summer with kids is to discuss what their summer schedules look like. Maybe it’s even more loose-y goose-y because it’s summer and that’s okay. Let yourself relax!
But having no schedule is a miss. Even if it’s just an outline of the week’s obligations, it can make or break the stress level at home for everyone. In my book, an outline, versus a strict schedule, is still better than nothing at all.
Your outline should include general times to wake up, meal times or needs, device time versus outside playtime and social times with friends and family, should all make the grid.
If you are short on ideas for those outdoor or play windows, identify specific activities with a summer fun jar filled with small pieces of paper where the whole family lists interesting activities they want to participate in. This helps redirect kids from their devices to activities like arts and crafts, or outdoor games like corn hole, spike ball or swimming. This summer my girls and I put tie dye socks and shirts, running in the sprinkler and even sunbathing in the jar of ideas.
Instead of focusing on behavior that is NOT preferred such as endless hours of device time on Tik Tok or Youtube, encourage the positive behavior you do want. All kids (and adults) need incentives. This is not bribery, the difference being that bribery is a one off interaction where goods or attention are exchanged in order for a shift in behavior to occur. Incentives, on the other hand, are when consistent reinforcement such as tablet time, favorite foods, one-on-one attention or something else the child loves is given only after the previously agreed upon behavior has occurred. For example, if a child checks off their chore list and participates in outdoor play time , then they earn points toward device time on the weekends.
As a mom, I’ve learned that it can be very hard to cut out device time during the week in the summer months, something I learned the hard way. So one thing I’ve done is to stick to our school year routine with a particular game or device that our youngest, Natalie, is obsessed with. For Nat, that’s the Nintendo switch. She would literally log hundreds of hours on that thing if we allowed it. So we use it as incentive by allowing her to earn points for her chores and family duties. In return she gets time on the Nintendo switch on the weekends. And, use your best judgment. I have to admit, we do allow longer device time on the weekends as summer leeway. Same goes for Ipad and tv time We let them be on it, but within the incentive time they earned.
As for my two older girls, between summer school work and the fact that they’re older and therefore have earned more independence, that is much harder to regulate. . The dance between earning device time and giving them the freedom they desire requires some fancy, parenting footwork. . The important point is that you require non device activities along with device time. They still have to do chores and outside activities and we communicate more with them as to when they can or can’t have device time.
Basically with this age group, things are not as black and white as with younger children. It is important to show your older children that you are making the effort to understand and empathize with them. However, rules are rules.
Now that summer is nearly here, I say kick it off with a win. Set aside time to organize your duties and your days off so that everyone in your house knows what has to get done as a family and the rewards that lie ahead each of you.
Summer is meant to be a blast but the aftershock of all that fun doesn’t mean letting go of the structure.
My goal as a mom is to strike the balance between summer fun and staying on track with our home goals because I know how much our homes pay us back, emotionally and spiritually when we do.