Believe it or not, many of our school aged clients actually report worsening mental health over their summer break. That is consistent all over the country. That may seem a little backwards at first, I mean what’s better than going on vacation, sleeping in and spending the days by the pool? But, the main thing that most summers lack is routine and social outlets! Routine is so important for children (and adults alike!). While we are not recommending that you structure every moment of every day, it can be beneficial for parents and children to have a basic outline of a “normal summer day”.
As a mother myself, it can seem overwhelming to think about a whole summer with my children at home all the time. I need routine for myself too. There are different types of time that we recommend scheduling into your days to help you and your children thrive over summer. Based on the ages of your children, it could look different but the ideas are the same.
We recommend spending as much time outside being active as possible during summer. This could include playing outside, swimming, exploring a nearby creek, having picnics, playing on the playground, pretending with friends, etc.
This means time where they do something that builds their brains or grows a skill. This could include reading, reviewing some topics that interest the child, playing a musical instrument, learning a new skill. This gives a sense of mastery that is often missing during summer and crucial for mental health.
At my house we call this the “art station”. This could include painting, drawing, pretending, play-doh, whatever it is that your child does that is creative.
While older kids might balk at the idea of a “rest time”, it is so crucial. This does not mean they have to take a nap but does mean “down time” or quiet time. This is crucial for parents and children! Set a timer, start with a small increment if you need to, and tell your child they need to do something quietly in their room until the timer goes off. This can be playing independently, reading in their room, or napping.
Personal Responsibility/Sacrificial Time
This is time dedicated to helping others or taking care of home responsibilities. Summer is a great time to volunteer, visit shut-ins, clean out closets and give away unneeded items, etc. This is when our children refocus on others and fill their cup by filling other’s cups. This can also include home chores.
This just means committing to eating meals. That may sound silly, but think about how often we are rushing during the school year all around time. Meals are either skipped, unhealthy, or eaten separately. Take summer to try new recipes, commit to eating the rainbow, or just commit to eating regularly as a family.
No pressure, we can help!
While it may not always be possible to hit every category every day, it can be helpful to have a basic outline to each day. This not only helps children, but helps parents too! It also limits the never-ending “I’m bored!” “What can I do?!” If your child or teen is struggling with mental health, summer can be a great time to get started seeing a therapist. You are not competing with homework or other schedules. We would love to help if you need us!
In general, parents are concerned about their teen’s mental health. This can be greatly heightened through the COVID pandemic. Isolation, virtual learning, and lack of extracurricular activities have caused mental health challenges to teens. Many parents are thrown off guard when they find out their teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and depression. They are seeing how COVID has impacted their social connections with their friends and even positive adult relationships from school.
Many parents feel lost on how to best support their teenager. The teen years are always a tricky time to navigate in general. To add COVID on top of that, it is no wonder parents are feeling lost! Not only are parents trying to work, run their household, they are also having to figure out how to keep their child engaged in school and healthy physically and mentally.
Connecting with your teen- the best medicine
Believe it or not, connecting with your teen is the most valuable thing parents can do. Many of the teens I’m seeing express a desire to be able to connect with their parents, yet they fear they may be rejected, judged, or criticized when opening themselves up and being vulnerable to their parents.
Tips for Connecting during COVID
Listen with a full open heart
Leave the judgements and criticism to yourself and allow for open dialogue. Be curious and ask questions to learn more about your child, their interests and even engage with them in those interests. If you have concerns, save that conversation for another time. Being present and listening to your child open up and be vulnerable is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
Dedicate a specific day of the week
(i.e., Friday or Saturday) for family movie night or game night. Cooking a meal together.
Show your appreciation
Many teenagers are struggling with their own insecurities, struggling to fit in, feeling like they can’t do anything right. When your child accomplishes something, even if it is emptying the dishwasher, or getting the mail, showing them that you appreciate them and noticing their effort offers encouragement and lets your child know that you noticed them.
Ask your teen how they are doing, what they need from you, and what they feel the greatest impact they feel is from COVID-19. Know that if you or your teen is experiencing self harm, suicidal ideation, or other risky behaviors, this is a major red flag. Please take them to the closest emergency room if the threat is imminent. Please find a licensed therapist for yourself or your child as soon as possible.
Foundations Family Therapy is currently offering telehealth and in person visits in our Fuquay and Raleigh offices. We would love to help you connect with your teen and help your teen thrive during this season. Contact us for more details!
This article was taken from an interview between Sara Davison and therapist Allie Cataldi.