“Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won’t be here to boss us around!”
Alas, it’s true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why we take vacations or occasionally skip the gym...why we sometimes take a “mental health day” from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that with his drill sergeant mom on leave, there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes. He envisioned my time away as one long boss-free, video-game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Except he forgot his sister would be staying home with him. Here’s how he described her at the time:
(I wonder, are those blue things fish, or a bossy sister's feet? Hmmm...)
Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is both healthy and necessary, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and a free-for-all that can be difficult to reverse. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.
Here are just a few strategies that I have found make for a smoother transition back to reality when summer ends:
- Adopt a summertime routine/schedule. Go ahead and let them sleep in a bit and enjoy their free time, but providing kids with a bit of structure and routine will make it easier to adjust back to those early alarm calls in September. Maintaining a bedtime and wake-up time, even if they are later than during the school year, provides a bit of structure to your day. Establishing a relaxed version of your morning routine to keep them in the habit of getting ready to start their day by a set time means there will be less nagging and fewer reminders when school resumes. Kids usually do better when the basics remain consistent and predictable.
- Promote healthy eating and exercise. If your kids are grazing on junk food all day long, limit snacking by assigning each kid a “snack box” filled with healthy snacks that must last them the entire day. Making sure they are getting at least 30 minutes of physical exercise each day will keep them fit, off the sofa and engaged in a healthy activity so they are less inclined to binge. They may sleep better too!
- Schedule an “off-time” period each day during which electronics must be turned off. I always hang a list of fun alternative activities on the fridge for them to consult when they get bored. One of my clients maintains an activity jar, filled with slips of paper containing an activity they can draw when they run out of ideas.
- Maintain math and reading skills. It’s really not that hard to disguise learning as a fun activity if you use your creativity. Cooking, arts/crafts projects, field trips, family time, and board or outdoor games that allow them to practice these skills are all around you. Instituting a family reading time (either together or independently) benefits everyone.
- Encourage older kids to complete a summer-long project of their choosing. Not only does this keep teens engaged and productive doing something meaningful, it boosts their confidence, allows them to demonstrate their talents and abilities, helps them discover new skills and interests, and teaches them planning, research, organizing and goal-setting skills they'll use in high school and beyond. (Download a free planning guide to get them started.)
- Keep track of the days. It’s easy to let the days run together in an endless blob during the summer, but there are benefits to differentiating between weekdays and weekends and having specific dates to look forward to as you mark the passage of time. I use my big chalkboard wall to write upcoming events, and we have Family Movie Night every Tuesday, Family Game Night every Wednesday and Family Burger Night every Thursday.
- Start tightening things back up very gradually as you approach the first day of school. I have learned the hard way that my kids --even as teens-- need plenty of lead-time to adjust to new routines. I make sure we have an adequate runway for transitioning back to a school-time routine at the end of the summer. We usually resume earlier bed- and wake-times about a week before school starts and limit weeknights out during that last week. We also spend some time during that last week making sure supplies, clothes and rooms are all in order for a return to school.
So go ahead, turn on Nat King Cole and turn up the volume as you savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush every day if you don’t want a cavity!
With a little structure and routine over the summer, even transitioning your kids back to a school-time schedule in the fall will be easy peasy.