Making the Most of Summer Break

by Connie Hammer, MSW and PCI Certified Parent Coach®

Summer vacation can trigger mixed emotions depending on your perspective. As a parent, you may be relieved to get a break from the routine of evening homework struggles and early morning hassles. Some parents may also experience a feeling of dread—working parents may fret about finding child care, and parents of children with ADHD may be concerned about the lack of structure that the summer months bring. Many parents are apprehensive about the challenge of keeping their children occupied appropriately. For some children, the lazy days of summer, are a source of fun and relaxation, for others, the long stretches of "nothing to do" days can create bountiful opportunities for trouble and mischief.

Keeping a balance of fun with structure can present problems for busy families. Preparation may be the key to helping your family enjoy the summer break. The following are 10 tips to keep in mind while preparing for the summer season.

  1. Before summer break begins, go over expectations with your children. Hold a special family meeting to discuss what to expect over the summer months? Brainstorm ideas and allow everyone to have input. What fun activities or excursions might be possible? What chores are to be completed? What will each family member be responsible for? Write down plans and expectations so there isn't any confusion later.
  2. Use a large calendar in an area such as the kitchen, where everyone can see it. Keep track of the activities that are going on, whether it is a family vacation, summer camp or "do nothing" days. This way, when you or your children are making plans, you can refer to the calendar and know whether the plans will interfere with something else that is going on. The calendar helps children know what to anticipate and allows them to better prepare for transitions.
  3. If your children will have a babysitter at home, set up a time for the babysitter to spend a Saturday afternoon with them beforehand. This way, you can be on hand but they can get to know them before spending long days together.
  4. Buy each child a notebook to keep a journal for the summer. Let them keep track of their activities and their thoughts of the summer. Build 15 minutes into each day (or each week) for them to write down their thoughts and ideas for what they want to accomplish. Not only will this provide a way for them to "keep" memories, it will help them in returning to school in the fall.
  5. Incorporate reading into the summer activities. If you are going on vacation, visit the library and read books on the places you will be going. If you will be staying around your area, visit the library and have your children get books on different places around the world and have them take "pretend" vacations to exotic areas every week.
  6. Give older children an opportunity to help prepare for summer plans. Make it a learning experience and have them map out routes for the trips you plan to take, make lists of what to bring, and help shop for the items. Inviting their participation in a way that acknowledges trust in their judgment will help instill ownership into the activity and defray any resistance that may be harboring within.
  7. Keep a list of activities your children can do alone, such as crafts, journal writing, a safe science project or planting a garden. Having an emergency plan for when a child claims "there is nothing to do" will help direct them in a positive direction. Comprising a list of age appropriate activities ahead of time will allow you to have supplies on hand. When a child states boredom have them refer to the list and choose an activity to complete.
  8. Maintain as much routine as possible. Guide your children to plan days that incorporate routines such as morning chores, a set time for daily reading, individual hobbies, and structured playtime with others as well as reflective quiet time for self. Remember the importance of family dinnertime and utilize it as a vehicle to plan and prepare for the next day's activities. Although you don't need to create a routine for every minute of the day, keeping certain routines, or replacing school-time routines can help a child feel more stable.
  9. Don't allow media to entertain your children throughout summer. Make clear rules and expectations about screen time (television, video, and computers) use in your household. Adhering to the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatricians is a good place to start. They suggest limiting children's total media time to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day. Encouraging interactive activities, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together, and alternative entertainment, such as reading, athletics, hobbies, and creative play, will promote proper brain development and growth.
  10. Be flexible and always have a plan B. Know that life happens and schedules will be upset. Learn to roll with the punches and role model appropriate ways to deal with disruption and adjust to unanticipated schedule changes. See it as an opportunity to inject fun and humor into the situation, "If life gives you lemons—make lemonade."

Whether you are a working parent or stay-at-home mom or dad, your goal to reduce summer time stress is achievable if you are mindful of the things that trigger anxiety in all family members. Planning ahead, anticipating challenges and paying attention to what works best in meeting the needs of all individuals will position you well for an overall pleasant summertime experience.

Connie Hammer, MSW and PCI Certified Parent Coach® has twenty years experience as a social worker with children and families in the fields of education, social services and counseling. She coaches parents with children in all developmental stages, pre-natal to empty nest. She is the proud parent of three adult sons and one step-daughter. Visit Connie's Web site at

Copyright © Connie Hammer, 2008, all Rights Reserved. Used with permission.