Summer brings with it many natural cues to slow down: the warmth, the longer days (more time = less need to do things fast), and the luscious grass or warm sand that beckons, Lie down!
But the approach of summer can also strike terror in the hearts of parents. Are you quietly (or not-so-quietly) dreading your child's school summer vacation -- wondering how you're going to fill the vast expanses of hot days with "bored" kids? How you're going to stick to your values about screened media, while retaining your sanity? Oh, and by the way, hopefully enjoying some semblance of calm and enJOYment?!
Here are five guidelines to help you not just survive summer, but actually cultivate more ease & harmony as you "wire" yourself and your children for joy & wellbeing in the coming year!
1) Avoid the Most Common Summer Vacation Pitfall
Don't go from OVER-scheduled to UN-scheduled! Children (and many adults) thrive on the comfort and security of structure. The key here is to create a summer schedule that delineates big, wide swaths of time for gentler-paced, vacation-worthy activities. Create islands of slowness within your days.
Using ideas from the list in Idea #5 (in Pt. II of this post), you might choose a "main attraction" activity for a given day -- maybe even that day each week. For example, "Wednesdays are beach day…" "…Fridays are blueberry pancake breakfast day…" and so on.
But avoid the epidemic trap of wall-to-wall scheduling. As Uncle Max in Sound of Music wryly points out, "Activity suggests a life filled with purpose" -- but it's actually when we slow down, sink more fully and deeply into even the most humble, "unexciting" experiences, that we can find more meaning and purpose in daily life.
And summer is the perfect invitation to cultivate this kind of presence in so many ways.
2) Use Summer Vacation to Nourish Your Connection
Many parents think often about a few key points of their child's behavior they would love to improve. I invite you to harness the relaxed feeling of summer vacation to deploy a parental aikido move: rather than focus on reducing negative behaviors or patterns in your child, devote your energies to increasing the strength of your connection. Let me explain…
Most parents know where the "sore spots" are in our connection with our children, a la "Jennie doesn't get enough of my undivided attention…" "I know Kyle feels like I don't 'get' him…" "Jess wishes I'd make the family-favorite chili more often…"
Summer vacation offers you the opportunity to slow down, get more present, and devote time and attention to the foundations of your relationship with your child(ren). Do you remember the last time you greeted your child in the morning with "eyes of delight"? To see his worthiness reflected this way off your face is one of the greatest lifelong gifts you can give him, and yet the rush-rush morning pace of the school year -- and so much of life in general -- can steal away these moments. Keep in mind that our kids will rise to our lowest expectations or reflections of them!
Time to simply enjoy your child… to really listen to his point of view… to have silly, low-tech fun with her… often falls by the wayside during busy, school-year season. A wading pool or sprinkler in the backyard, you in a chaise-lounge (maybe sneaking up with a bucket of good-natured splashes from time to time?) is just one of many simple summer recipes for nourishing connection with your child.
And you may be pleasantly surprised to notice that unpleasant or oppositional behaviors magically resolve themselves as you keep making these kinds of "deposits" into your relationship account with your child. Children are hardwired to cooperate with people with whom they feel a strong connection; as your child feels an ever more secure, authentic connection to you, he or she will instinctively behave more harmoniously!
3) Befriend "Boredom": A Boon for Your Child's Wellbeing!
It has become one of the baddest bad words in our culture: boredom. We stave it off at all costs. One way I see this happening is when we provide screens to occupy children, even in environments that offer plenty of naturally occurring, "real time" stimulation! Like most parenting pitfalls, this is well-intentioned yet potentially harmful: fending off all your child's "boredom distress" can carry serious costs down the line.
For one thing, a child's budding imagination thrives on some mental down-time; the imagination of a constantly-entertained mind can atrophy from sheer lack of use! But even more critical to your child's lifelong success and wellbeing are the self-regulatory capacities that are part of her social brain functioning. Your child's self-regulation system needs to be worked and practiced to fully develop. This calls for some interludes of [gasp] bordom, which are essential for the fully articulated wiring of the brain circuitry responsible for her future capacities to manage and balance her emotional states -- stress, disappointment, boredom, pleasure -- from the inside out. This will serve (not too many years from now!) as a significant protective factor against high-risk behaviors, which are ways of attempting to manage such emotions from the outside in.
All parents hope that their children will be interesting people as they grow up, but it's even more important that citizens of a peacemaker generation be interested people. Children who benefit from the recurring opportunity for "constructive boredom" become teenagers who can scarcely understand the notion of boredom, because their interest in the world is so robust!
Tomorrow, in Pt. II:
4) Building Your Child's Gray Matter
5) Practical Ideas for Summer Vacation Activities
Canoe image: sachatrtl through a Creative Commons license | Flickr