Oh, those perfect summers filled with sunshine, happy children, and long days of quality family time. That’s the dream, but if your family is like most, that’s not always the reality. With too much free time, any underlying problems a family has can easily come to a head.
Instead of being the idyllic season you’d hoped for, summer break can leave everyone’s temper burning like a fresh sunburn. Big problems may require the help of professional family therapy, but there are steps you can take to support your family’s good mental health this summer.
6 Tips for a Happy, Healthy Summer
A schedule change, time away from friends, and new activities to juggle can upset a family’s normal rhythm. Spending so much time together is fun, but it can also highlight any trouble in how the family functions. The extra tension and unpredictability might trigger individual members who are struggling to cope.
If you’ve been considering the benefits of family therapy, summer is a great time to start. A more flexible schedule and more time together to practice new skills will help you make the most of therapy. Family therapy isn’t just for families in crisis. Therapy can help you function better as a unit and learn how to support one another.
Whether you feel family therapy is needed or not, the following tips will help everyone in your household have a more enjoyable summer break.
1. Start the Summer with a Family Meeting
Get the summer break off to a good start by having a family meeting to discuss plans and expectations. This is a great time to let kids know about any special rules for the summer, such as restrictions on electronic devices. Mark everyone’s activities, camp weeks, and special events on a central calendar and display it where everyone can see.
Letting everyone know what is expected of them ahead of time will help reduce the potential for conflict. Mapping out the summer plans together may also help reduce the anxiety that can occur without the structure of a school schedule.
2. Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
Family life requires a certain amount of flexibility in every season and even more during summer break. Late nights and extra snacks are part of the fun, but abandoning healthy habits for the summer is a mistake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages parents to help kids make healthy choices during the summer, including learning more about what they eat.
To make nutritional education more fun, try these tips:
- Use an app that teaches kids about making smart food choices
- Visit Kid’s Corner at nutrition.gov for a list of food-related games and websites
- Highlight fresh summer fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks
- Enlist the family’s help in making naturally flavored waters with mint or fruit slices
- Don’t skip breakfast, even if kids are sleeping later in the summer
- Schedule a weekly “new recipe” night where the whole family helps cook dinner together
Eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water will help everyone maintain the emotional balance needed to navigate a stressful summer.
3. Adjust School-Year Schedules, But Don’t Abandon Them
Summer break wouldn’t be the same without late nights playing in the backyard and lazy mornings watching cartoons. However, completely throwing out all your family’s familiar routines could be destabilizing. Additionally, several weeks without structure makes it even more difficult to get back into a routine when the school year begins.
Keep some semblance of your routine during the summer, including naptime for younger kids and a reasonable bedtime for teens and tweens. Serve meals at usual times as often as possible, and maintain the same household rules of conduct, like doing chores and using good manners.
4. Give Your Kids Space
Spending all day every day with the kids can be stressful, but guess what? Your kids may feel stressed from spending so much time with their parents and siblings, too. If your children are old enough to spend time unsupervised, let them have privacy now and then.
Don’t wait until you’re at a breaking point to send the kids to their rooms. Make individual playtime a regular part of your summer routine. Everyone will benefit from the chance to recharge.
5. Exercise Together
Whether it’s a family walk, a game of backyard catch, or taking an all-age yoga class together, making sure the family gets plenty of physical activity will help everyone maintain a cheerful mood.
Several studies on exercise have confirmed that physical activity helps to reduce stress and relieve the symptoms of stress-related depression and anxiety.
6. Watch for Signs of Mental Health Concerns
Even when you make every effort to keep everyone healthy, kids and adults can still struggle with mental health concerns in the summer. Family therapy is an effective way to address mental health concerns for adults and children.
The symptoms of distress in children aren’t always the same as they are in adults. Watch for these signs of depression and anxiety in teens and adolescents:
- Separation anxiety
- Developing phobias
- Constant worry about the future
- Physical symptoms, like a pounding heart or feeling dizzy
- Feeling sad or irritable
- Not wanting to join in family activities
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms may also become more obvious in the summer. It is easy to miss the signs of ADHD or assume a child is “acting out” because they don’t like school or don’t want to do a task. During the summer, parents may see certain behaviors in a new light.
If you notice the following symptoms in your child, consider having them get tested for ADHD:
- Making careless mistakes
- Appears not to listen
- Trouble organizing
- Easily distracted
- Constantly in motion
- Talks a lot
- Avoids tasks that require mental focus
- Has trouble taking turns
If you suspect a child or adult in your family is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or ADHD, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Family therapy and individual therapy, combined with lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication, may save your family member’s life.
Enjoying a Happy, Healthy Summer
Don’t pressure yourself or your family to have “the best summer ever.” Every family has its own special ways of bonding and enjoying each others’ company. Spending time doing the things you love together — even if they’re not amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences — will create the fond memories every family hopes for while supporting good mental health. To learn more about how family therapy can benefit your family, contact Newport Beach Family Development Center today.