Dear Dr. Fournier:
Summer has arrived and I’m not ready. My children are thrilled to be out of school, but what I see ahead of me are the three months that I have to fill up with something so that my kids don’t get bored.
They have some one-week camps to go to; vacation bible school at church, and a one-week visit with their grandparents.
This sounds like a lot, but there are a lot of in-between gaps. Do you have any suggestions for parents looking for activities for their children?
Today’s hurried lifestyles have our children operating under two false assumptions:
1. If you are not busy all the time, then something is wrong.
2. Someone else has planned your life, and it’s your job just to follow and keep going.
During the school year, every weekday is the same routine for children: Get up, get ready, eat breakfast and be at the bus stop or get to school on time. Move through school on a pre-determined schedule. Go to after-school care or home.
Once at home, its do homework and chores, eat dinner, take your bath, and get to bed on time. If there is any time left over, most children fill it with sports, music, dance, scouting or other extra-curricular activities.
Then, summer hits. Children know it will be different, but they don’t expect the hurriedness to go away, and they don’t expect to have to plan their own schedule. No wonder parents hear the infuriating phrase, “I’m bored. I don’t have anything to do.”
It’s time to help your children un-learn their assumptions about time: We do not have to be busy all the time to have fun or be productive, and it’s our responsibility to plan a reasonable schedule of activities.
As parents, we can help our children learn responsibility and decision-making by letting them create their own summer schedule, with our guidance.
WHAT TO DO:
Make a family calendar and sit down with your children to discuss summer plans. Mark on the calendar all the activities you have already scheduled, such as those mentioned in your letter.
Tell your children that they will be responsible for keeping up with individual activities and making all necessary arrangements, such as asking you for transportation or arranging car pools with other parents.
All activities must be logged on the family calendar to make sure there are no conflicts. You may want to assign each child a different color marker so that the calendar can be color-coded.
This will draw on the developing senses of responsibility and self-reliance in your children as they learn to make – and keep – promises to themselves about what activities they scheduled for on a given day. It will also teach them to look at the white space on a calendar or planner as available time, so they do not attempt to commit themselves to something on a day when they already have plans. When this practice becomes a habit, they can carry it over to school and enjoy the benefits of knowing how to anticipate and plan for themselves appropriately.
Be sure to set clear, front-end rules so that your children can make appropriate decisions about their summer schedules. One rule could be a required “Creative Day” at least once a week.
For example, you may declare that on Wednesdays, your children must rely on themselves to schedule their own “Creative Day.” They can take pictures of what they create and keep a special summer journal or create a digital album to print later.
For example, your children may use this day to garden, have a backyard picnic, bake a batch of cookies, create new placemats, stage a puppet show, write a book of poems or stories, or do anything else that draws on their personal creativity. If your child has required summer reading, then that reading is a good option as well, but this is not the time to play endless – and mindless – video games. Video games are great fun for children and teenagers, but they are toys like any other, and should be quarantined to a designated amount of time.
Summer is a time when both you and your children can unwind, but this only happens if you resist the temptation to schedule every minute of every day for your children. Instead, help them learn to create their own schedule with a balance of activities and personal time.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER