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Summer and Mental Health

Can you believe it's already summer? Our staff can't either. While this time of year brings beautiful weather and great food it can also bring a lot of stress to the lives of parents whose children struggle with their mental health. This sudden change can be really difficult for your child and as we know when something is difficult for a child, it is difficult for their parent too.

children playing during the summer

That is why we asked our staff of parents who have and are raising children who struggle with mental health challenges their tips and tricks for handling the transition to summer. They have years of experience helping their children manage their mental health through the summer and they want to share with you what has worked for them.

This conversation was full of great, and hard earned tips and tricks about helping make the summer more manageable. It also brought up the idea that every parent, child, family, and household is so different. One of my coworkers gave us a great tip that you'll read below while another noted that while it was a great idea it would never work for her child.

You know your child better than anybody in the world - if you read one of these and instantly know it's not the right fit, just skim past it. Take the ideas that seem like they could fit into your summer and give them a try!

1. Get on the same page early

It will be really helpful to get every on the same page about what can be expected. Summer evokes a lot of fun and exciting imagery for children so it can be really helpful to let them know a little bit about the reality of what your family's summer is going to look like.

Will you be working from home? Will you be working outside of the house? Will you have chores that you expect done by a certain time of day? Will your children now be involved in more of the household duties like grocery shopping/cooking/cleaning? Do you expect them to do any educational activities over the summer?

a family meeting

Our staff has found that a family meeting at the very start of the summer can help the entire family. We know, we know - the idea of another meeting on your calendar is less than ideal. However many of our staff members agreed that a family meeting at the beginning of the summer is a great way to set the household tone for the summer. Consider having a set time where the entire family gets together to discuss what the summer will look like. Give your children a little time before the meeting to think about what kinds of questions and concerns they would like to address at the meeting.

2. Keep a routine

This was BY FAR the number 1 most talked about tip from almost every member of our staff, with one of them noting that her most important summer tip is to "be as predictable as possible." We know that your schedule may have changed too to accommodate your children's new schedule but try to keep things as consistent as you can.

Keep bedtimes the same as they were during the school year, keep mealtimes as consistent as you can. A child who struggles, especially a child who struggles with anxiety, can become very unsettled when they don't know what's coming next, making summer very daunting. By adding structure and predictability to their day you can help make the entire summer more enjoyable for them.

While everyone on staff agreed that keeping a routine is important, this is the point in the conversation where it became obvious that not every tip will work for every family. One of my coworkers mentioned that what works best for their family is to plan daily activities for her children. She names each day things like "Pool Thursday" and "Chill Wednesday" and by far our staff favorite was her weekly "Forced Family Fun Friday." She mentioned that this helps her children know what they can expect every day of the week.

Another coworker mentioned that she does something similar but a daily activity would overwhelm her child. Think about your own family's dynamic and decide whether or not daily, or weekly themed activities could help your child thrive this summer.

a dad and his two children

3. Embrace the mess

An increase in time spent at home for most children also means an increase in the mess at home. One of my coworkers summer tips is to embrace the mess the best you can, especially if her children had fun while making it. Framing it in this way, to think that mess is a byproduct of your children having fun and making summer memories, can help you from pulling your hair out (a little).

With that being said sometimes messes are created and nobody had any fun at all. If you find yourself in a constant loop of cleaning up after your children we encourage you to add in age appropriate housework into their summer routines. It is okay to ask for, and require help from your children to keep the household moving. You do not have to take on this summer alone.

4. Be flexible

As much as we plan, and structure, and think ahead - this is 3 months of a whole lot of at-home-time and things can go differently than we hoped. Don't get so stuck in the idea of a routine that you get upset when things change. Your mood directly impacts the mood of your entire house so try and keep it as upbeat as you can. Don't allow your family to stray so far from the routine that it is completely forgotten but a little derail here or there is going to happen and it will be better for the entire house if you don't dwell on it.

Another great tip was all about protecting your child if they do not cope well with having to be flexible. If your child gets upset, angry, or anxious about a change of plans it can be helpful to not let them know about things that are far in the future. As you know, life happens and plans change but that can be very difficult for a child who is struggling to deal with. If you know your child hates when things don’t go as planned don't give them these big windows of time to think about an activity that might end up changing.

Two of my coworkers were in complete agreement that this particular strategy has helped cut down on the meltdowns they have in their house. Instead of getting the response "YOU said we were going", now they can have fun little surprise plans that their children are excited about, and they never had to once stress about it getting canceled.

two young children camping over the summer

5. Give your child and YOU some grace

The summer is a lot. It is a lot of fun, a lot of chaos, a lot of togetherness - it's just a lot and it's okay to feel that. As you and your children navigate summer and try and give everyone involved some grace. This is a big transition period from school 5 days a week to being home every day and it will take some getting used to before you find your family groove.

Navigating the summer and mental health challenges be very challenging. Do you want to hear from some moms who get it? This is Not What I was Expecting is our weekly podcast hosted by parents who get what it's like to raise a child who struggles with their mental health. Tune in every Wednesday anywhere you listen to podcasts or click here to learn more!



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