This is the time of year that families think about the end of school, summer activities, and even the beginning of the next school year.
With warmer weather and later sunsets, children and parents often spend more time outdoors into the evening hours. They may also make changes in their routines, such as ball games and practices, taking walks after dinner, or having a later bedtime. Making changes is not necessarily a problem; however, schoolwork may lose some of its focus, and too many changes can disrupt family life. Since family routine provides a sense of stability, consistency, and purpose, maintaining the structure around homework and chores, as well as sticking to an evening schedule, will help everyone adapt to the changing season with fewer difficulties.
For many families, the last month and a half of school can be an especially difficult time, as children may be struggling to finish the school year on a positive note. I see many children with attentional disorders, learning disabilities, or emotional difficulties, any of which can make school stressful. If your child is struggling, this is not the time to put more pressure on him. Expecting that the child will do better in school during the last weeks when he has struggled the rest of the year is very unrealistic. Ending the school year on a sour note will also greatly upset his motivation for the next school year.
In most cases, it is important to take the broad view. If you are frustrated because you don’t know what else to do for your child, use the energy to take a realistic look back at his progress so far and decide what might be done to make next year better. Consider meeting with the teachers to review your child’s progress and get some ideas about what they think would be helpful over the summer and for next school year.
Many parents seek out a tutor for the summer so their children can work on skills that need improvement. Tutoring can provide children with the mastery of material that has been difficult for them and can result in an improved self-concept and motivation for school altogether.
If there is some concern about a child’s learning ability, the summer may prove to be a perfect time to seek professional evaluation and help without the stress of having to deal with grades at the same time.
As summer approaches, I usually ask clients what their plans are for the break. Now is a good time for families to begin discussing expectations for the summer and start preparing. It is also important to think about establishing a new routine and signing up for structured activities like sports and camps.
Children and parents may think they should have the summer free and not have to worry about making plans. I don’t think this is realistic because everyone really does have thoughts about what they want to do during the summer, even if it is just to play. More often than not, children and parents who do not plan ahead end up disappointed when the summer does not turn out the way they had hoped.
Parents also know that few children can entertain themselves well for the whole summer. Parents and children eventually become frustrated with each other as their boredom increases and the break drags on. Structuring the summer does not have to be a chore for the parent and child if the goal is to provide fun activities that also contribute to social and emotional growth. I encourage families to find camps, classes, and activities for the children—for at least part of the summer.
I also encourage them to work out a routine that takes into account such things as when people are expected to wake up, have meals, enjoy free time, complete chores, check in, and return home. Establishing routine and anticipating problem areas will go far in reducing stress.
If you find that this time of year is stressful, talk with your kids about the changes that are taking place, what is on everyone’s mind, and how each person is feeling. Preventative maintenance can make a big difference.
Dr. Jeffrey Katz is a clinical psychologist in Va. Beach, specializing in helping children, adolescents, and their families with the treatment, evaluation, and advocacy for ADHD, LD, and behavior problems. Learn more and contact Dr. Katz at www.drjeffreykatz.com.