Summer can be tricky, especially as a caregiver of children – you want to allow them a chance to rest and enjoy their break and be free from the tight schedule of class work and after-school activities. Rest is crucial for good mental health, but caregivers should also provide enough structure so they aren’t sitting in their rooms all day (which can negatively impact their mental health). Caregivers may feel pressure to “make the most” of the warm summer months and free time and may end up adding too much to their kid’s plate or struggle to find activities they enjoy doing.
When trying to work out a summer schedule that also helps maintain your child’s mental health, remember that less is often more. It’s important to find a balance between providing some structure to children’s time, but not making it so structured that they can’t properly rest and find themselves more stressed.
Supporting Mental Health This Summer
Here are three key elements to help caregivers create a supportive mental health summer for their children:
- Nature: get outside. While today’s youth may not be as “free-range” as generations past, allowing your children to have unstructured outside time in whatever capacity they can is great for mental health. Along with unstructured outside time, take advantage of the nice weather for some quality family time – a family walk or hike, an outside game like tag or catch, or taking your dinner to a local park. Try creating a family outdoor bucket list at the start of the summer to get youth excited about what’s to come.
- Nurture: focus on using summer break to nurture healthy relationships and happy memories. Positive emotions are key to creating positive memories, so focus on the feelings associated with a certain activity. Use this break to spend quality time with the youth in your care. Encourage youth to also use this time to nurture relationships with their peers who they may be in contact with over devices and/or social media, but nothing compares to the face-to-face time that can help foster healthy and happy relationships and memories.
- Pace: make time for your child to be on their own and go at their own pace. It can be hard for caregivers to not put a ton of pressure on themselves for creating a summer schedule – they want to make sure that youth in their care are in a healthy structured environment and make use of this summertime to try and learn new things, but this can often lead to cutting into their breaktime, which they need after a school year. It’s not always a caregiver’s responsibility to fill up their youth’s days and every hour; it’s good to let them be bored and figure out activities to do on their own. Give them space to explore their interests and encourage 10 minutes of quiet time a day – maybe this is a nap for younger children, and for older youth a time where they read a book, write in a journal, listen to music, or some time with no screens. Books, music, arts and crafts, board games – these are all areas they can explore.
All children are different, so gauge what you think they need on an individual basis – some youth may have a great time outside while others enjoy time alone at home, and others with friends. Some youth may need help and encouragement from a caregiver. Take it day by day and allow them the time they need to rest.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.