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Vacation Mode: Balancing Fun and Wellness in the Warmer Months

The sun has come out, school is wrapping up, and vacation plans are on the horizon! Living seems to be getting easier as our schedules open up with a bit more freedom and flexible time. We often feel a natural improvement in our mood, motivation, and general sense of well-being as the weather gets warmer and summer approaches, but for kids, summer can introduce a unique set of challenges that can impact their mental health.

For many kids, especially those with behavioral and attentional difficulties, losing the structured routine of school can greatly impact their ability to function calmly and effectively. For kids with ADHD, having structured and consistent routines is a useful tool that allows them to understand what they’re expected to do throughout the day and to remember the steps they need to take to meet these expectations. For kids who struggle with anxiety, routines can also be a useful tool to manage their nervous or worried feelings. Knowing what to expect can help them to approach their days with confidence. School naturally encourages routine, both in the home environment and throughout a school day. At home, families often have set morning and bedtime routines to ensure that kids make it to school on time and make it to bed on time to get enough rest each night. Families may even have routines around attending extra-curriculars that follow the school schedule. At school, the whole day is structured for kids, by class period, with set recess, lunch times, and dismissals. Routines are embedded in the months between September and June.

Once school lets out, kids lose the set routine of school, the corresponding extra-curriculars, and the morning and nighttime routines at home can become less structured in the absence of academic pressure. With unstructured time, kids with ADHD might be more prone to behavioral dysregulation, increased time on screens, and decreased follow through on expectations. Kids with anxiety may experience heightened feelings of nervousness and exhibit emotional and behavioral dysregulation when there are unexpected changes to their schedule. The responsibility for creating routine falls on the caregivers. Engaging kids in camps can be a useful way to inject routine into the summer, since they often encourage structure in the same way that schools do. Although, being able to attend a camp is a privilege that many families may not be able to afford or access. With that in mind, caregivers can get creative about the ways to introduce routine during the summer. Some simple ways could be to create a kid-friendly summer weekday schedule, explicitly writing out activities and expectations for your child throughout the days of the week. Creating an easy-to-read schedule with some fun activities, chores, meals, and family plans and walking through it with your child can help them feel supported and secure, since they know what to expect and what will be expected of them.

Creating a routine for your child can also be a useful way to make sure that caregivers are integrating important aspects of life for children into their own summer routine, like learning and socializing with peers.

Taking a break from educational activities over the summer can also seem like a welcome respite from schoolwork for kids and parents alike. Even so, keeping up with some educational activities, like reading, writing, and doing the occasional math problem can make massive differences in a child’s ability to return to academic classes with ease. Many schools provide summer homework assignments, or a recommended reading list. Talking to your kid's teacher about their suggestions for academic activities can help you identify what will help your individual child the most. Build some time into your child’s summer day routine to do a little bit of educational work each day.

School provides ample opportunities each day for your child to engage with peers their own age, and in the grades above and below them. Without planned activities for your child in the summer, the opportunities to socialize and develop social skills with peers may decrease drastically. Play time with other kids is educational in its own way. Play introduces an opportunity for kids to practice appropriate speech, manners, body language, and much more! These natural opportunities to learn how to engage with others are priceless. If your child is not engaged in a camp where these moments might come by naturally, like in a school, you can build it into your summer in other ways. Set up weekly play dates if you know some of your child’s peers, or even bring them to a public park and encourage them to play with the other kids there!

Especially in the summer, families are more likely to be taking vacation since there are less demands and commitments required during the summer months. Taking vacations can provide benefits for all members of the family. Vacations can promote self-care, adventure, a value on family quality time, and can introduce kids to new learning experiences. Even so, taking vacations can further interrupt routine and even mental health care. Applying a daily routine even on vacation can be useful for keeping life consistent for your kids. Previewing this schedule with your kids can help to set them up for success as you embark on new adventures!

If you are engaged with school services or mental health care for your child during the school year, be sure to discuss your summer plans with them and your plan for continuing sessions or practicing useful skills at home during vacation time. Your clinician or provider is a useful resource to help you proactively plan for any challenges you anticipate arising during vacation. If you can, staying consistent with mental health care and attending sessions as often as possible can help your child stay engaged with the services they receive and will encourage their use of positive coping skills during the summer months.

Most importantly, summer vacation can be such a wonderful opportunity to connect with your children and create lifelong memories. Enjoying these moments as a family and being present with your children can enhance strong positive feelings between you and your child. These memories and feelings can act as a buffer when more challenging experiences might arise in the future! Soak up the sunshine, enjoy that day at the park, and have fun!

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Sources:
“Building Blocks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers, 5 Nov. 2019, www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/toddlersandpreschoolers/structure/building.html#:~:text=You%20set%20appropriate%20expectations%20and,they%20know%20what%20to%20expect.
“The Importance of Schedules and Routines.” Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, 20 May 2024, eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/quienes-somos/articulo/importance-schedules-routines.
Selman, Saliha B., and Janean E. Dilworth‚ÄźBart. “Routines and child development: A systematic review.” Journal of Family Theory & Review, 19 Dec. 2023, https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12549.
“Strategies for a Successful Summer Break.” Child Mind Institute, 6 Nov. 2023, childmind.org/article/strategies-for-a-successful-summer-break/.