Summer is here, hip-hip-hurray, the cheers will go. Especially after such a long winter of snow, polar-vortexes and the buzzing stress of work, school and after school activities. Summer, through the lens of media is a time for celebration, a time for vacating one’s usual pace and enjoying life with a tall glass of lemonade.
I have worked for many years in the field of mental health, spending the first three-quarters of my career providing therapy based around the school calendar. If you have ever been in a school at the conclusion of the year, you can sense the pulse upon completing the last days, the excitement and energy flooding the hallways as the adults and children sing silently about “no more teachers, no more books…”. I am reflective of my own first summer transition experience completing kindergarten, the bus ride home was filled with the cacophony of students going bananas. I remember piles of paper flying around the bouncing bus as it went from stop to stop in my sleepy, beach town. Windows open, salt sea in the air, a time of wonderment at what lie ahead.
One thing that is often not thought about is that this is a time of transition, not just in terms of seasons and extended daylight. It is a time for many to get bounced out of a structured routine that has been an anchor and thrust into the unknown and possibly, unstructured. This experience can be both joyful and also less than enjoyable. It may mean losing the supports that the school environment provides. It may mean the loss of relationships, as contact with friends could be less frequent due to difficulties with scheduling and transportation. It can mean isolation, boredom, loneliness and anxiety about the next year, or one can be left with guilt about “the shoulds” of the previous. For those who are moving up in the world, like transitioning to school for the first time, going to middle school, high school and beyond, these times may be filled with a heightened sense of fear about what it means and what is expected to happen next. Regardless of the challenges to be faced next, it is important to keep a sense of connected structure during this time.
Here are some tips to think about as you and your family embark on this summer transition.
The transition experienced is a family challenge, not just a challenge for the individual going through it. The changes may result in development of different roles, rules and expectations. This may mean that each person has his/her own thoughts and feelings about this transition and it is important to make time to share that with each other and get help navigating, when difficulties arise.
Wear sunscreen! Hey the dermatologists highly recommend it as a way to prevent skin cancer, which reportedly effects one in five adults. https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs for more information.
Continue to keep the lines of communication open. It is important to continue to make time to reflect on how your child is doing. Good prompting questions to facilitate conversation are open ended and allow time for the speaker to answer. Instead of asking “how was your day” you can facilitate more discussion with “what did you do today that was fun/difficult and how did you feel about that happening?” Open ended questions allows the speaker to share more detail and will allow you as the listener to have a more engaged pulse on your child’s day. You can use these open ended questions to explore how they are feeling about the next transition or school year. This is best if not left to a “one-time” conversation and is instead approached as an on-going dialogue. If you get a sense that there is more anxiety, sadness, or other feelings present about a transition than is to be expected it might be a good time to seek out extra support to process and problem-solve.
Create and keep a routine. Routines are an important time to learn skills that assist us in the future and summer time is no exception for learning these skills. Although they can be a little more relaxed in the summer months, it is important to think about the daily functions of eating, activity and sleep. Check out this link for more information about the importance of sleep routine in the summer. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/why-your-child-needs-sleep-schedule-throughout-summer
Limit the amount of technology time used daily and engage the technology in a way that can relate to some aspect of learning. There are many ideas and tools for how to do this on the web, just search out summer and technology use, in your search engine.
Facilitate connections with friends outside of technology time. Designate and help create activities that allow for time spent in-person with peers in your community.
Most importantly, although the daily stressors may decrease because of being off of school in the summer, it is important to know that mental health challenges due not take a vacation. If you feel you or your child needs help, seek out the resources in your area early.